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Companies Fighting Cocaine Abuse Among White-Collar Workers

September 23, 1985

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The director of a clinic says he is treating twice as many drug abusers from the professional ranks as he did two years ago, a trend that reflects both an apparent increase in the use of drugs as well as a greater willingness to seek help.

Craig Dieter, program director at Liberation Clinic, said that, including professionals, the clinic had 209 drug abuse cases between May and August.

The trend is disturbing because it is is estimated that a white-collar drug abuser can cost a company 25 percent of his or her salary in decreased productivity and sick days.

The white-collar client is primarily an abuser of cocaine combined with alcohol, Dieter said. About 60 percent of cocaine abusers treated at the clinic are professionals, with the typical white-collar cocaine abuser described as a white male and about 30 years old. Dieter said the profile is deceiving, since men are more likely than women to seek drug counseling.

Dieter said he also had seen an increase in heroin use among white-collar workers.

″It’s obviously going to be cocaine first,″ Dieter said. ″Most stay with cocaine, usually out of a social bond. But there is a certain increase in the amount of white-collar professionals who experimented with heroin and became addicts to it.″

Most white-collar addicts started using heroin as part of a ″speedball″ mixture snorted with cocaine, a combination that users say takes the edge off a cocaine buzz, he said.

An overdose of heroin and cocaine injected as a ″speedball″ mixture killed actor-comedian John Belushi, then 33, on March 5, 1982.

While there are indications that more professionals are using drugs, Dieter said, the evidence is equally strong that more people are willing to seek help after realizing that they have a problem.

″The attitudes in terms of drug treatment have changed. It’s not looked down on anymore,″ he said.

Many of Dieter’s clients come to him through corporate employee assistance programs, which offer help for drug and alcohol abuse, marital problems, sexual abuse and emotional disorders.

Richard Heinsius, of the Family Services of America in New York, attributes the proliferation of corporate cocaine use to those who have used drugs recreationally over the past two decades.

″People who had incorporated drugs into their lives in the sixties and seventies are moving more toward these types of drugs as they move into affluent positions. With these people there was never a strict interpretation that drugs were wrong,″ said Heinsius, a consultant to Xerox Corp.’s employee assistance program.

The problem is considered serious enough that Xerox is about to implement a mandatory drug education program for all employees, according to Donna Patchen, an administrative assistant in Xerox’s program.

Dieter said, ″People can spend $50,000 a year on cocaine before they say, ’God, where’s all my money gone. Where have I been for a year?‴

Mary Bernstein, who manages the employee assistance program at GTE Corp., said that having an impaired employee on staff, regardless of the problem’s cause, ″costs about 25 percent of his salary in attendance, productivity and insurance benefits.″

GTE, she said, ″has an employee assistance program because it makes good business sense. Whenever you have a number of people at a worksite, you’re going to have people with problems.″

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