(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. – National Drug-Free Workplace Week starts Monday and continues thru Oct. 16. The annual information and awareness campaign highlights the importance of a drug-free workplace and encourages workers with substance use/abuse challenges of any kind to seek help.

“The Fort Lee Employee Assistance Program draws added focus to DFW Week each year, and stands ready to assist DOD Civilians, active duty family members and retirees with resources and referral options,” acknowledged Susan Loden, the installation’s EAP coordinator.

Although there is “nothing new under the sun” when it comes to addiction, she said, “The world continues to throw twists at us.”

An example cited in the Sept. 27 public safety alert from the Drug Enforcement Administration is the sharp increase in fake prescription pills containing potentially lethal doses of Fentanyl and Methamphetamine. Criminals market the counterfeit pills on social media where the focus is on teens and young adults and product names of the most widely abused prescription pills such as Adderall are used.

“The legalization of recreational marijuana in Virginia is another of those ‘twists,’” Loden continued.

The law that took effect July 1 allows state residents, age 21 and older, to possess up to an ounce of the substance; however, it does not apply to individuals who live and work on military installations, which are federal property. Post leaders emphasized in an early June article that marijuana is not allowed on base and cannot be used by military personnel or civilian workers.

“The rules for those of us living and working inside the gates remain the same (as it was prior to passage of the new Virginia law,” noted Fort Lee Drug Testing Coordinator Tracey Chappell. She also pointed out that her screening program is active with routine testing ongoing in accordance with Army regulation.

Another “twist” is the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and associated mitigation measures such as social distancing and telework. Many are feeling stressed, isolated and perhaps afraid of being exposed to the virus and becoming seriously ill. Communities across the country are universally reporting increases in drug or alcohol usage as an unhealthy coping mechanism for these stresses.

“Under ‘normal’ circumstances, caring people around us may take notice of our struggles and bring concerns to our attention,” Loden said. “As a result of telework and other social distancing measures, though, our previous support structures are stretched thin or are out of touch completely. It has become more likely that a spiral into addiction will go unnoticed.”

Loden explained that the “hallmark of addiction” is the loss of control over something in one’s life. Addictions can run the gamut from legal things like nicotine, alcohol and gambling, to illegal activities such as obtaining un-prescribed narcotics and misusing prescription drugs.

Recently released research revealed workforce positive drug tests in the U.S. hit a 16-year high in 2019 and, Loden reported, “we were still trending the wrong way at the start of this year.”

A key goal of the DFW Week campaign is to educate the community on the EAP’s capacity as a support system for workers struggling with life/work imbalance. The program is available to those feeling overstressed, unable to cope with a demanding work environment or experiencing a crisis such as alcohol or drug use that is affecting their job.

“Many of us know someone who’s use or abuse of a substance is concerning, but we’re not sure how to approach the conversation or even what to say when it comes up,” she said. “Perhaps, we even justify it for them with reasoning such as ‘they’re not dependent on it if it’s just for recreational use,’ or ‘they made it legal, so it can’t be dangerous.’”

The ongoing campaign is a catalyst for the hard conversations the workforce needs to have about a real and prevalent problem. It’s also an opportunity to raise awareness about the abundance of support services on and around Fort Lee. Individuals needing more information or someone to talk to can contact any of the following for assistance:

·        Employee Assistance Program, 804-931-5111

·        Substance Use Disorder Care Clinic/Behavioral Health, 804-734-9143

·        On-Call Chaplain, 804-734-1584

·        Veteran Crisis Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

Drug-Free Workplace Week, Loden reiterated, is a time to consider the prevalence of alcohol and substance use in our society and the detrimental impacts it could have on performance and safety if an individual is impaired on the job.