Dr. Patrick Smith

Dr. Patrick Smith told N.B. employers that addiction is a mental health issue and all companies should have a policy in place to identify and offer help to employees. (Jessica Doria-Brown)

Employers who attended a symposium held in Moncton on Thursday learned more about how to support employees who are struggling with addictions.

Dr. Patrick Smith, the CEO of a residential addictions treatment centre in Toronto, said not enough companies have a policy in place for workers with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. 

"It's no surprise that it shows up in workplaces, especially because 70 per cent of people with substance use disorders are employed."

He said adults spend more hours in their workplace than they do at home and therefore it's important for employers to recognize their role in identifying problems which usually arise through performance issues.

"Workplaces do have a responsibility to provide the appropriate treatment and health response," said Smith.

N.B. companies developing addiction policies

Amanda O'Sullivan, the director of health, safety and training at Moosehead Breweries, said her company is currently developing a drug and alcohol policy.

'It's really nice when somebody comes back to work and they are a fully functioning citizen and employee in our company.' - Laura Button, JD Irving

"I think we can make excuses and turn a blind eye and we don't want to do that anymore," she said. 

Laura Button works for JD Irving where she runs the drug and alcohol program.

The company insists on random drug testing of employees, a policy she says was met with mixed reactions. 

"Their wives or their families or their spouses may say a thousand times, 'I'm going to leave you if you don't stop,' and once their employer says, 'We're going to let you go if you don't do this,' they go and so they're thankful in the end for it," she said. 

Button said the program has proven to be both effective and rewarding.

"It's really nice when somebody comes back to work and they are a fully functioning citizen and employee in our company."

Smith said companies have to recognize that addiction is a mental health issue and employers should be dealing with it the same way they would any other health problem.

"Traditionally one response has been, 'This person has a drug or alcohol problem, let's fire them.' Imagine if someone said to you that they were fired because they missed three days of work because of cancer treatment or because of the cancer symptoms."

Organizers of the symposium said one in 12 workers have a serious drug or alcohol problem.