Studies have shown that up to 80% of problem drug users (PDUs) are unemployed, yet work has been shown to be an important component of rehabilitation and reintegration into society, reducing the likelihood of relapse. More PDUs in work should mean more people successfully achieving recovery and exiting treatment, and a reduction in crime. PDUs on welfare benefits also cost the UK many tens of millions of pounds. Perhaps more importantly, most unemployed PDUs want to work and recognise its significance for building a ‘normal’ life. Once in work, recovering PDUs have been found to be good employees.
It can be a significant and long-term challenge to get some PDUs ‘fit for the job’. Many will have a range of ‘primary needs’ such as poor physical and mental health and suitable accommodation, which need to be addressed at an early stage. Many employers are extremely reluctant to recruit PDUs, even those who have the right competencies for the job. The ‘two years drug free’ rule which is sometimes applied is arbitrary and creates a significant barrier to rehabilitation for PDUs who are stable, on substitute medication or otherwise, before reaching that time period. However, employment opportunities can be increased by enabling employers to manage the perceived risks and addressing the stigma that is ass ociated with problem drug use.
The review reaches a wide range of conclusions on getting problem drug users ‘fit for the job’ and addressing employers’ concerns. It also raises the possibility of more radical measures such as legal protection and small financial incentives for employers.