Business and the military face up to drug challenge

''If it wasn't for Wall Street, I never would have come in contact with heroin.''

Eric, who earns a good living on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, didn't become involved with daily drug-taking until he entered the intense arena of high finance. One day eight years ago, when trading was sluggish, he made his first heroin transaction, in a washroom. Eric (not his real name) is now trying to withdraw from drugs in a methadone-treatment program. (Methadone is a controversial synthetic narcotic used to help ween addicts from heroin.)

But Eric is not alone in his drug problem. In the business world and in the armed forces as well, drug abuse is being recognized as a major problem.

In the past, many corporate and military officials viewed marijuana and cocaine use as confined to the fringes of society. But in recent years enough drug-related problems have shown up on the assembly line and in the barracks to move them to action. A few examples:

* Two years ago 13 workers at a Boston-area computer firm were arrested for possession and sale of marijuana, LSD (a psychedelic drug), mescaline (also a psychedelic), and amphetamines (stimulants). The group had been netting some $10 ,000 a week in drug sales.

* Three years ago Lockheed Corporation, the California-based aircraft and aerospace firm, conducted its own drug investigation. Fifty-two workers were let go after drugs were found.

* Two years ago a Maine-based gun--and auto-parts manufacturer fired eight of its employees after they were charged with trafficking in marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and Quaaludes (a sedative and hypnotic).

* When an air crash occurred at sea last year aboard the aircraft carrier Nimitz, 11 of the 14 crewmen killed were discovered to have been using drugs.

* A congressional study on drug use among European-based forces conducted just prior to the crash brought even grimmer news: The equivalent of four battalions assigned to Europe are, in effect, put out of action each year due to drug abuse. And nearly 50 percent of the GIs surveyed admitted using some kind of drug on duty.

From board room to assembly line, from the Pentagon to the barracks, America's business and its military are being challenged to take up the gauntlet of drug abuse.

The stakes are high. In the corporate world drug use can hamper productivity, lead to possibly dangerous mistakes, and impair labor-management relations. In the armed forces it threatens to undermine discipline, thwart combat readiness, and, some would argue, imperil national defense.

The problem, in other words, raises a disturbing question: When does personal choice leave off and public responsibility take over? Unlike the weekend marijuana smoker partying with friends, the drug user on the assembly line could do serious harm.

''Working while intoxicated, whatever the drug, affects both the individual, the industry, and society,'' says Dr. Sidney Cohen, a drug expert at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical School.

''We spend billions of dollars on military defense, . . . and our military may be crippled by this drug problem,'' said Rep. Frank J. Guarini (D) of New Jersey at recent congressional hearings on the problem.

So far, the antidrug campaign is producing mixed results. Several branches of the military and many private firms are cracking down on drug use. Companies involved in work that could affect public safety--such as the airlines and nuclear industries--in particular are more sensitive to the issue.

Dozens of firms now conduct drug raids and blood tests to root out drug use on the job, which draw their share of protests from employees. At the same time, many of these firms are expanding employee-counseling and drug-treatment programs. Still other corporations are getting involved in community drug-prevention efforts.

And for the US Navy, the battle against drug abuse has become an all-out war: The service has launched the most stringent antidrug campaign in its history--a wide-ranging thrust that many consider to be in the vanguard of the drug-prevention drive today.

On the reverse side of the drug scene, however, is some disquieting news. Drug and alcohol abuse among America's workers is still uncomfortably high. Nearly 1 million of the 17-year-olds who enter the work force every year are already problem drinkers. And a 1972 study done by the American Management Association showed drug use a problem among more than one-third of the 235 firms polled. The National Council on Alcoholism estimates that drug abuse costs business $16 billion a year in lost productivity, accidents, and treatment. When alcohol is included, the figure rises another $49 billion.

What makes these numbers and figures even more disquieting is that many observers say only the tip of the iceberg is showing. ''We are just beginning to recognize the problem,'' says Dr. Joseph Pursch, corporate medical director for Comprehensive Care Corporation. ''But the only time you see the workers with problems is when they reach the surface and by then,'' he says, ''they're pretty well gone.''

Steve, another drug-dependent New York stock broker, admits that it's not that difficult to disguise the affects of drug taking on the job. ''If you're on a 24-hour cycle, you can (take drugs) after work, and it'll last you through the next day.'' But he admits that a chronic habit will eventually get in the way. ''Sometimes I would get up from my desk at 12 and just not come back. You can't do that forever.''

Yet some experts point out that industry has been slow to face the drug abuse problem. ''Industry has a long history of alcohol prevention and treatment programs,'' says Prof. David Lewis, chairman of the Community Health Department at the Brown University Medical School. ''But on the drug side, they're still touchy. Drug programs just do not have the sophistication that company alcohol programs have.'' Another observer puts it more bluntly: ''I don't think we're going to see any real action until there's a major mishap--when someone on Wall Street sells when he should buy, or buys when he should sell.''

One new villain that the corporate and military worlds face in their fight against drugs is cocaine. This powdery drug has become an emblem of status for part of America's middle class, including much of the working world.

''Cocaine is definitely the drug of the '80s,'' says Dr. Ronald Segal, a physician with the University of California at Los Angeles Medical School who has researched the drug for more than 10 years. ''While the '60s were the heyday for marijuana and psychedelic drugs and all their inward turning, consciousness expanding, alternative life-style seeking users, the '80s sees those same users now dropping back into society.''

Cocaine, says Dr. Segal, is their drug of choice now. ''People think they can work harder, faster, and better by using it.'' And despite growing evidence that the drug is harmful, Segal says he does not think that the 15 million Americans who now use it are likely to stop in the near future. And the amount of cocaine entering the country has risen sharply during the last two years, say US enforcement officials.

Clearly the foe confronting industry is a stubborn one. But many companies are rising to the challenge. Some recent efforts and encouraging signs:

* The Gillette Company conducts periodic ''employee information days'' to discourage workers from taking drugs and to inform them of the hazards. Such ''prevention through education'' programs are now being adopted by other firms.

* In Maryland, community groups and businesses (including the Marriott Corporation, IBM, and the Washington Post) have launched a program aimed at educating the public, stressing drug-free alternatives and available local services. The one-year-old public information campaign, called Business/Community Team against Drug and Alcohol Abuse, operates in Montgomery County.

* Many unions are demanding that worker treatment and prevention programs be set up in the workplace. Two years ago the AFL-CIO passed a resolution recommending that its unions include drug and alcohol prevention and rehabilitation programs in bargaining with management.

* The Association of Labor and Management Administrative Consultants on Alcoholism Inc. (ALMACA) has seen a surge in its corporate and union membership. A professional association of alcohol and drug consultants, ALMACA is reporting ''recovery rates (in employee assistance programs) like never before'' from its battery of consultants.

* An increasing number of rehabilitated drug users are reentering the work force. The New York-based National Association on Drug Abuse Problems (NADAP) placed more than 500 former drug users in industry last year, a record. Nationally recognized as a model program for connecting local firms with community needs, NADAP has placed more than 1,800 ex-users in the 11 years since its inception.

New York's Citibank has hired more than 100 of them over the past decade. The bank also served as host of a recent seminar for drug--and alcohol-rehabilitation professionals on how to raise money from the private sector.

Many smaller companies, too, are moving to combat the problem. And in many cases their efforts extend beyond the company.

Otto Moulton, owner of a machine shop in Topsfield, Mass., is a visible and outspoken drug fighter. He publishes a semiregular newsletter--Committees of Correspondence--aimed at publicizing the latest in drug research. He has issued eight newsletters so far. His intent, he says, ''isn't to tell people what to do , just point out legislation coming up.''

How did Mr. Moulton happen onto such a campaign, much of which he pays for himself? ''I used to think I was being a good citizen just by voting, running my business, taking care of my family, and helping out with Little League,'' he says. ''But now I know there is more I can do. This country has been good to me, and why shouldn't I do something in return.''

Perhaps the most vigorous drug-prevention drive today, however, is going on in the military. Prodded by Congress in the late 1970s, the armed forces began a crackdown on the growing use of heroin, particularly among troops stationed in Europe.

At congressional hearings last month, John H. Johns, deputy assistant secretary of defense for drug and alcohol abuse prevention, testified that the attack on hard-drug use had led to significant declines in the number of users, but that the use of alcohol and marijuana ''remain at a persistently high level.''

Renewed efforts to curtail abuses are under way, aided by new chemical detection tests and recent military court decisions permitting the results of those tests to be used as evidence in military prosecutions.

''We must clear away the misperception that the military has masses of drug addicts and drunks with their fingers on nuclear triggers,'' Mr. Johns said, adding that such a perception is a ''carryover from the Vietnam era,'' when a large number of heroin users did exist in the ranks. Military readiness is, he says, ''as high as it has ever been.''

Each branch of the military is dealing with its drug and alcohol abuse problem separately. But the Navy, which is believed to have the highest number of drug users, is launching one of the toughest crackdowns. Its attack includes meting out more stringent punishments for offenders. In the words of the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Thomas B. Hayward, ''We're out to help you or hammer you--take your choice.''

The hammer is very big indeed. In most instances, the detection of one-time drug use by an officer or chief petty officer means a less than honorable discharge. For an enlisted man, it takes two offenses to bring dismissal. But as Rear Adm. Paul Mulloy, the officer in charge of implementing the Navy's two-fisted approach, says, ''We want the traffickers.'' As for the rest of the drug users, ''we want a change in attitudes.''

Admiral Mulloy, talks a lot about pride and individual responsibility. Reinforcing those qualities with peer pressure is a big part of the Navy's effort, he says. ''These are quality-of-life issues,'' Mulloy says. ''I don't have much truck with people who call (drug abuse) adolescent behavior. Over 65 percent of the Navy is under 20 years old. We can't wait until they turn 25,'' the age when most drug abuse falls off sharply. Beyond its ''zero tolerance'' for drug use, the Navy also wants to root out another problem, alcohol abuse.

The Navy is beefing up its drug detection dog teams (beagles that sniff out lockers), using more portable urinalysis kits for at-sea testing, working out arrangements with the US Postal Service to inspect seagoing mail for illegal drugs, and toughening up punishments.

At the same time, however, the Navy is balancing its get-tough approach with an emphasis on treatment and prevention. New counseling and prevention centers are being set up. And the department is looking at on-ship alternatives to keep men busy in their leisure time. This includes everything from installing computer games to rescheduling watches.

The Navy's one-two punch thrown at the drug problem is bringing results. Admiral Mulloy says the barely two-month-old initiative has already brought a dip in individual drug use and a rise in drug-related arrests. In addition, there has been ''a doubling of people coming forward and asking for treatment--a very, very healthy sign,'' he says. Regular surveys are planned to monitor the program, with the next one scheduled for this fall. Next: State and federal legislation and enforcement efforts Where to write for further information

National Institute on Drug Abuse 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, Md. 20857

PRIDE Parents Resources and Information on Drug Education Georgia State University University Plaza Atlanta, Ga. 30303

ACTION Drug Use Prevention Program 806 Connecticut Ave. NW Washington, D.C. 20525

National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth 9805 Dameron Drive Silver Spring, Md. 20902

Channel One Clearinghouse Corporation Box 8, Lanesville Station Gloucester, Mass. 01930

Straight Inc. Box 40052 St. Petersburg, Fla. 33743

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