Chesterton Tribune

Drug tests made business more efficient, employer tells group

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Employees are more than warm bodies to man a shift, make change, answer phones.

They are expected to use their own discretion, given latitude to make decisions, entrusted with money, and when their judgment is impaired a business can suffer, although not always in obvious ways.

Kathy DeWitt learned the hard way. After instituting a mandatory drug-testing program at her firm, KLD Research in Valparaiso, she was shocked when eight of her 24 employees, most of them young adults, tested positive. Under the terms of the program, they were terminated.

DeWitt was more shocked still when that 33 percent reduction in her workforce had no impact whatsoever on the efficiency of her operation. “There was no difference in our ability to get the same amount of work done,” she told her colleagues in the Community Action Drug Coalition at its monthly meeting Wednesday.

What kind of kids are you hiring? DeWitt recalled being asked by an acquaintance in the business community.

Good kids, she said. Smart kids. Your kids.

Whatever moral parents may draw from her experience, DeWitt maintained, employers shoud draw a single inescapable one: a clean and sober workforce is good for the bottom line, increases productivity, and improves morale.

DeWitt—whose operation is once again fully staffed with a workforce of 25—opted to institute the mandatory drug-testing program last April, shortly after she joined the CADC. “I wanted to put my money where my mouth is,” DeWitt said, quite simply because employers have almost as much a stake in the drug problem as parents do.

If they would only recognize it.

CADC is trying to spread the word. A group of parents, counselors, cops, politicians, and businesspeople, CADC has been meeting in one form or another since 1998. In its early days it held a series of public awareness forums in Chesterton, Valparaiso, Portage, and Hebron. Last year it sponsored a “Call to Action” at the Porter County Expo Center, a symposium on the drug problem attended by more than 200 people. Currently it’s crafting a presentation—or a “road show,” as Duneland Chamber of Commerce Laurie Franke-Polz is calling it—to be made available to parent-teacher associations, church groups, service organizations. And—if requested—to employers.

After four years the challenge of CADC remains largely the same, however. To persuade the community of the existence of the drug problem in Porter County. Of a serious drug problem. The message appears to be getting traction, although evidence at the moment is chiefly anecdotal. When the CADC held its series of public awareness forums in 1998, remembered Alex Rodriguez, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the audiences were polite, attentive, and—more or less—disbelieving.

But the county’s children keep overdosing—some of them fatally—local law enforcement agencies keep making arrests—the Porter County Drug Task Force busted a metamphetamine lab in Portage last August—and addicts keep stealing to support their habits. Parents, Rodriguez believes—some of them, at any rate—have begun to take notice. A few have even begun to share their own horror stories, to bear witness to the toll which drugs have taken on their own children and families.

For Paul Ulrich, also an agent with DEA, the battle is as much against “beliefs and attitudes” as it is against the drugs and the dealers themselves: against the refusal of parents and employers to acknowledge the problem, against a laissez faire complicity in the problem, against the quiet nihilism which prompts the kids themselves not to give a damn about their futures or even their lives.

We need to begin to teach the children even earlier, urged CADC Chair and Porter County Council Member Karen Conover, R-at large. “We teach our kids not to run into traffic . . . and not to touch the stove because it’s hot. Maybe this is when we should teach our kids about the dangers of trying, just trying casually, a drug.”

Among its achievements to date CADC counts a quarterly newsletter, the creation of a Narcotics Anonymous support group for the families of addicts, and a commitment from the Porter Memorial Hospital to run an article in its Stay Healthy magazine.

But CADC has loftier goals. Its members hope to raise funds to establish an in-patient treatment center as well as to defray the cost of hiring additional drug counselors at the Porter County Jail. They also want to implement a drug hotline and website.

Dunelanders interested in donating their time and money to CADC can contact Conover at 462-1161, DeWitt at 464-4668, or Franke-Polz at 926-5513.


Posted 3/7/2002