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Substance Use Policies Violate Employee Rights (by Byron Wood).

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

If you work in a safety sensitive occupation such as nursing, aviation, law, or the trades, and your employer suspects that you have a substance use problem, you will be thrown to the wolves. This is what will likely happen to you: You will be required to see a physician for an addiction assessment. Your employer will choose the physician that you have to see. Regardless of the severity of your substance use problem and whether or not it has impacted the workplace, the physician will demand that you completely and indefinitely abstain from taking any psychoactive drugs. You may be required to stop taking medications that you are using to treat a mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder. You will not be allowed to take over the counter medications to treat colds, headaches, allergies and other illnesses. You may even be discouraged from taking medications that you are using to treat an illness such as a bipolar disorder. Abstinence will be enforced through random drug testing which will cost you over $10,000 a year. The random drug testing could occur at any time, and is enforced even when you are on vacation. You will only be allowed to attend certain private clinics for the drug testing, so depending on where you live you may have to drive an hour or more to get to the clinic which will disrupt your work schedule and private life. When you submit to a drug test, somebody will stand beside you and watch the urine come out of your body which is both humiliating and harmful. You may have to blow into a breathalyzer dozens of times a day. Toothpaste, breath fresheners, body lotions, perfumes, hand sanitizers, house hold cleaners, certain foods and certain medications may result in false positives, which will result in punitive action against you. If you have a substance use disorder, you will not be prescribed any medication to help prevent cravings and relapse. If you have an opioid use disorder, you will not be allowed to take Suboxone or Methadone even though these are first line treatments and can be taken safely without impairing your ability to do your job. You will be forced to attend a private 12-step residential rehab centre, after which you will have to attend 12-step peer support meetings every single day. This is despite the fact that 12-step programs are religious, there is no evidence that they have any effectiveness at all, and they are often used as hunting ground for sexual predators. You may also be required to attend and pay for additional peer support groups that also use a 12-step approach. You will not be allowed to access services through the publicly funded health care system as part of your treatment plan. You will not be allowed to have any input into your treatment plan. Collateral information and treatment recommendations from your primary health care provider will be rejected. If you ask for an individualized evidence-based treatment approach, this will not be provided, and you will be labelled as “in denial”. If this approach is not helpful in treating your substance use problem, instead of being offered a different approach, you will be labeled as “treatment resistant” and you will be forced to attend more frequent 12-step meetings, and submit to more frequent and more invasive types of drug testing. You will have to meet weekly with workplace disability officers, and monitors from private companies that track your compliance with all of these conditions. If and when you return to work you may be forced to tell your co-workers that you are an “addict” and that they should rat you out if they ever suspect you have relapsed. You will have to continue with this “treatment and monitoring” for as many years as the physician deems appropriate. The physician often owns the medical monitoring company that does the drug testing, and to which you have to pay tens of thousands of dollars, so the physician may continue to arbitrarily extend the length of your monitoring contract in order to make more money. If you have so much as one glass of wine with dinner, and your employer finds out, you will have to take time off work, attend a month long 12-step residential rehab centre again, and have years added onto your treatment and monitoring contract. You will not be allowed to get a second opinion from another doctor and there will be no appeal process for you to challenge the diagnosis or the conditions of the treatment and monitoring contract that you are subjected to. If you do not comply with all of these conditions you will be fired. Even if your substance use has never impacted the workplace, and you voluntarily approach your employer hoping to get help for a substance use problem, you will likely be forced into this type of treatment and monitoring program. Some employees who don’t even meet the criteria for having a substance use disorder have been forced into these treatment and monitoring programs. Employees subjected to treatment and monitoring programs have reported that the experience has been abusive and has had an adverse effect on both their physical and mental health, and actually exacerbated their substance use problems. The cost of having to pay tens of thousands of dollars for drug testing has been devastating for many employees. The unreasonable treatment and monitoring conditions have lead to many employees having to abandon their careers and some have contemplated suicide. I have filed a human rights complaint against the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority for forcing me to be abstinent outside of the workplace, and for firing me when I refused to attend religious 12-step meetings. Archaic addiction treatment and monitoring programs exist not only for safety sensitive workers such as nurses, but also for people subjected to the Canadian legal system, corrections system, and child protection services. Dr. Charlotte Ross recently published research that exposes the mistreatment of Canadian nurses who are suspected of having substance use problems. (click on the link and scroll down to chapter 4) Jonathan Chapnick has written a legal paper about the grossly unlawful and blatantly discriminatory approach to substance use in the workplace Dr. Karen Urbanoski has uncovered problems with coercive addiction treatment, and she continues to the study the evidence for compulsary treatment. An arbitrator recently ruled that the Interior Health Authority must suspend and overhaul their discriminatory workplace substance use policy. A pharmacist is fighting for the right to take Suboxone on the job A human rights complaint is proceeding against RMC Ready Mix Ltd. and Lafarge Canada Inc. for their allegedly discriminatory workplace substance use policy. TransLink has been ordered to stop random drug testing of a skytrain attendant


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