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For Twenty Years A WV Drug Abuse Prevention Program That Works

July 18, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Critics of the nation's "war on drugs" have noted that there has been little change in the percentage of Americans abusing drugs during the past four decades. In West Virginia's construction industry, however, where drug abuse is a serious safety issue, unions and contractors say a program is showing results.

The Labor Education And Development (LEAD) program is celebrating 20 years in operation. Its administrator, Lynn Wade, says LEAD has been proven to work through a combination of repeated mandatory drug testing and treatment programs for people with problems.

"They're getting help, and we've found that it's been a big deterrent. I've spoken with people before that have said that it really opened their eyes, that they didn't know they had a problem."

Accident numbers can be somewhat tough to quantify, Wade says, but some contractors credit the program with reducing their accident rate enough for them to see a reduction in Workers Compensation premiums. Jim Cerra, executive director of the Kanawha Valley Builders Association and the Tri-State Contractors' Association, says cooperation between labor and management is part of what makes LEAD effective.

"It's probably one of the best in the country only because I don't know any other areas where you have all of the building trades and all of the contractors working together in this effort."

Civil libertarians have criticized drug testing as an invasion of privacy, but Cerra says building sites are dangerous enough even when everyone has a clear head.

In a large part of the state, Wade says, it's difficult to get a construction job without a LEAD card, which contributes to the effectiveness of the treatment part of the program.

"There is a procedure they have to go to, and if they have to go through rehab then they have to come back to us with the certification that they have completed the rehabilitation before they can retest and enter back into the program."

About 13 percent of construction workers nationwide have positive results on random drug tests, but Wade says LEAD's rate is less than a quarter of that. The program also includes strong mandatory workplace safety training. It covers much of the construction industry for the southern half of the state.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV