Workers for Ethical Substance Use Policy (WESUP) was established as a non-profit organization in 2021. Our purpose is to support and advocate for workers who have substance use challenges, and to fight for systemic change to harmful workplace substance use policy.
For far too long, employees who have substance use challenges, have been stigmatized and marginalized in the workplace. Workers are branded as being an inherent danger to workplace safety and are removed from the workplace or coerced into outdated, invasive, harmful, and profit driven addiction treatment & monitoring programs, and denied access to ethical and evidence-based health care.
In Vancouver, 2015, a small group of workers started sharing stories of being harmed by workplace substance use policy. Some workers had been removed from the workplace on the mere suspicion of a substance use issue, without any evidence of being impaired at work. Some workers had voluntarily reached out to their employers asking for help with their substance use or with other physical or mental health conditions.
After being singled out by their employer for having a substance use issue, workers are required to undergo addiction assessments from one of a small group of addiction physicians chosen by their employer. The approach used by these physicians is based on outdated beliefs and stereotypes about people who use psychoactive substances.
Information about workers’ substance use is often taken out of context and any use of a psychoactive substance, even outside of the workplace, is seen as a threat to workplace safety. Any use of illicit substances is automatically considered a “substance use disorder” regardless of the individual circumstances of the worker.
Based solely on the diagnosis of "substance use disorder," workers are stripped of their autonomy to make their own health care decisions, and coerced into strict one-size-fits-all treatment & monitoring programs that do not meet the minimum standards of services available to the general public.
Workers are coerced into signing contracts (typically 3-5 years long) that mandate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week abstinence, with the threat of job loss if they do not comply.
Workers with Opioid Use Disorder are prohibited from using Opioid Agonist Treatment medications, workers with mental illness are prohibited from using certain psychiatric medications, and workers are prohibited from using most pain medications. This blanket prohibition on medications is not supported by evidence, and has had devastating effects on the health of many workers.
Abstinence is enforced through random testing of urine, blood, breath, hair follicles and liver enzymes. A worker can be subjected to a test at any time, even when on vacation. A single positive test can result in the treatment and monitoring contract being extended by multiple years, or even job loss.
Workers have to pay exorbitant costs (up to $1000/month out of pocket, typically for 3-5 years) for drug testing through private companies, which are often owned by the referring physicians.
Drug testing services are available through the public health care system at a considerably lower cost. However, workers are not permitted to access those services. Workers are mandated to use the private drug testing companies and the referring physicians directly profit from this arrangement / conflict of interest.
Despite their personal and cultural beliefs, workers are required to attend inpatient addiction treatment centres that are based on the 12-step philosophy, and to attend daily 12-step peer support meetings. Many workers object to the religious and moralistic nature of these programs which are based on Christian doctrine. However, workers are not offered or permitted to access non-religious psychosocial treatments that are available to the general public.
Workers’ compliance to these mandates are strictly enforced. If workers do not follow all of the conditions of the "treatment and monitoring agreement" based on the physician’s recommendations, and enforced by th employer, the worker is be deemed "non-compliant," risking their careers.
Workers have no choice in the physician that assesses them, and no choice as to their treatment goals or treatment plan. They are not offered any harm reduction services, withdrawal management, trauma informed care, anti-craving medication, or mental health services. They are not allowed to access services through the publicly funded health care system, are not allowed to get a second medical opinion, and there is no appeal process for them to challenge the assessment, diagnosis, or conditions to which they are subjected.
These workplace substance use policies take a huge toll on workers mental health and often make their substance use problems worse. Some workers have been bankrupted by the medical monitoring costs. Some workers have been forced to abandon their careers.
As more and more workers shared similar stories of being harmed by workplace substance use policy, we established a nonprofit organization that would allow workers to support each other. Peers could exchange information about worker’s rights, get support advocating for themselves, mount legal challenges and fight for policy change.
We’re demanding a new and humane approach to addressing employees’ substance use. Employees should be offered voluntary, confidential, culturally appropriate, trauma-informed health care services that are based on current harm reduction / health promotion principles.
Only as a last resort, should conditions be placed on an employee remaining in the workplace. When that is necessary, employees must be allowed a truly individualized & evidence-based risk assessment, and employees' self-determination and human-rights must be placed at the forefront.
As our membership reflects, workers from many different occupations are subjected to harmful workplace substance use policy.
If you have been harmed by a workplace substance use policy and want more information about advocating for your rights, or just want someone to talk to, please contact us.