New line of business

Is cocaine making a comeback in the office? Who's taking it and what can employers do?

Mark Smith is wealthy, clever and has a highly successful career as a barrister. He also takes drugs. Lots of them. Sometimes at work. "I've been a recreational user of drugs since I was at university, when it was mostly spliffs or the odd bit of speed. When I moved to London I got into clubbing and I started taking Es like most people my age, but now it's mostly charlie (cocaine). It's usually a weekend thing but I have occasionally taken it in chambers when I'm working really long hours on a difficult, stressful case - but I'm very discreet," he says.

Smith, unlike Anna the sassy barrister in upmarket soap opera This Life, has not been caught. He says that his colleagues are unaware of his drug usage, but that he knows other lawyers who also take stimulants either for pleasure or to help them cope with the stress of the job.

There are no figures available for drug abuse in the workplace, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is on the increase. Last week the London Evening Standard ran a front-page story headlined "Warning on addict lawyers" which revealed that a help line set up for solicitors showed alarming levels of cocaine and heroin addiction.

But a spokeswoman for the Law Society says: "I think that was a lot of hype to do with the popularity of This Life. We set up a counselling service in May to help and support those solicitors who feel they need to talk to someone about their problems. So far the service has received 41 calls. Many of them are depression related, some are drink related but only two have been drug related - there are 87,000 solicitors in Britain."

The Bar Council says that it will not comment on drug usage among barristers, but a spokeswoman says "they are human beings like the rest of us".

During the Eighties it was the City that gained a reputation for drug- taking and excess, and some of that old-style boozing and coke-snorting is returning, says Andy West, a City trader.

"In the Eighties some City boys certainly boosted the Colombian economy and I did a bit myself. Now it's starting to happen again and I'm seeing the younger ones doing a lot of coke. They have very stressful jobs and drugs give them a buzz and tremendous energy, but part of the problem is that most of them have far too much money and don't know what else to spend it on," he says.

But it's not just the high earners who are taking drugs in the City. Alison Price is a secretary and says "Although I don't take anything at work because it's not worth the risk, there are times when if I've been out clubbing during the week I'll go into work the next morning still a bit out of it. But I don't think that's any worse than my boss coming into work with a raging hangover because he's had a bottle of Claret the night before."

Drug usage at work may be far more prevalent than employers realise, says the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD). It commissioned a survey of 1,500 personnel professionals who revealed that 15 per cent of their organisations had received reports of employers using illegal drugs in the past year.

"These figures could represent the tip of the iceberg as far as actual levels of drug abuse by workers are concerned," says IPD policy adviser Oonagh Ryden. She believes that the problem often goes unnoticed by management.

"A coke addict is not going to do a line in full view of colleagues, although a heavy drinker may go to the pub with their manager because alcohol is legal and therefore socially acceptable," she says.

The IPD says that employers can't afford to be complacent about substance abuse at work, whether it is alcohol, illegal or prescription drugs. It says that research from the US indicates that employees who use drugs are a third less productive than their colleagues, 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or somebody else in a workplace accident and 2.5 times more likely to be absent from work for eight days or more.

According to figures published by the American Management Association, 81 per cent of big companies now subject employees to drug testing either before they join the company or on a random basis. In Britain it has usually been confined to industries such as transport or oil, where safety is paramount. But Oonagh Ryden suggests that "testing may also need to be introduced for other jobs where drug abuse may impair performance, such as the City, where the wrong decision from a drugged-up dealer could result in the loss of millions of pounds". There is evidence that a number of City institutions are testing employees for drugs - usually as part of a medical test when they join the company or if there is cause for concern about a particular individual.

One City drugs testing unit says: " We advise City institutions on health issues and five or six of them are doing drug-screening pre-employment."

A spokesman for Chase Manhattan Bank says: "It's not something we want to discuss although new entrants are tested but that is pretty standard."

Another City source says: "It's mainly American companies in the City which do drug-testing because it's pretty routine in the States. But the general feeling is don't test because you could get into a terrible dilemma - what do you do if you find out that someone is using drugs but is a really high performer? It's an issue they would really rather not think about."

Testing employees for drugs is a minefield. Ms Ryden says that unless tests are carried out at frequent intervals after employment, a drug abuser can simply pick up the habit where they left off to avoid pre-employment detection.

But more worrying is the fact that drug tests are not foolproof, as the case of athlete Diane Modahl - who failed a drugs test and was then cleared - illustrates. In the US there are a growing number of cases where employees who have tested positive for opiates are subsequently found to have taken nothing stronger than a poppy seed bagel at lunch time.

Employers organisations say that in any case testing is pointless unless companies have established a clear policy on how to deal with drug usage.

Greater Manchester Police Force, in conjunction with the TUC and the Institute of Directors, among others, is launching a drugs awareness package for employers that contains placebo drugs so that they can recognise illegal substances if they come across them. Chief Inspector David Williams says: "This is based principally on a welfare basis. It's about removing drugs from the workplace, not the individual from the workplace. We are urging employers to get a policy in place that can help individuals with drug problems." Ms Ryden adds that "the emphasis should be on rehabilitation with dismissal as a last resort. It's not in the employer's interest to lose talented people".

Meanwhile Mark Smith says: "My use of recreational drugs is not affecting the quality of my work, but if ever I knew I were to be subjected to a drug test then I would give up and steer clear of the smoked salmon poppy seed bagels, too. I love my job too much to lose it"

Some names have been changed.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
TV Review: rSabotage, a major meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
i100'Geography can be tough'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
REX/Eye Candy
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Management Accountant

£30-35k + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Management Accoun...

UI Designer / UX Designer

£40 - 60k + Amazing Benefits: Guru Careers: A UI Designer / UX Designer is nee...

SEO Manager / SEO Expert / Head of Search

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: An SEO Manager / SEO Expert is needed to join an inno...

Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

£30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?