Private companies should help fight America's drug plague by notifying employees that drugs will not be tolerated and then conducting random drug testing, says U.S. Attorney Dee V. Benson.
Addressing the Rotary Club during a luncheon Tuesday in Symphony Hall, Benson said employers should hand out information to all workers in the company saying use of illegal drugs will result in disciplinary action."The important thing is the deterrent effect of getting that person into a treatment program."
Benson said statistics show that Utah is in about the same fix as the rest of the country concerning drugs - that is, about 10 percent to 15 percent of Americans abuse illegal substances. The most common are heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, he said.
About 5 million Americans are addicted to cocaine, and a death from cocaine overdose occurs every five minutes, Benson said. Crack cocaine, which he called a new marketing idea by cocaine distributors, sometimes sells for as little as $5 a "rock."
According to Benson, 80 percent of the crack cocaine users are addicted to the substance. He said 10 percent of marijuana users and 66 percent of methamphetamine users are addicted.
Attacking the people who have called for the legalization of drugs, Benson pointed out that next year 300,000 to 400,000 American babies will be born addicted. They will need special medical attention for the first 40 days of their lives, sometimes attention as expensive as $5,000 a day.
In addition, these people will be "potential time bombs" all their lives - some of them potential murderers like Ted Bundy - because of the prenatal damage, he said.
"It's costing America approximately $100 billion per year to finance the drug problem," he said. "Fifty billion dollars alone are estimated to be lost to businesses through lost productivity."
Benson said 70 to 75 percent of drug users have regular employment.
"Every business represented in this room could institute certain measures," he told the members of Rotary.
He said the military forces are a good example of the difference that random drug testing can make.
Seven years ago, 40 percent of all enlisted personnel in the military used drugs regularly. Then random drug testing began and use was cut dramatically, he said.
On the topic of marijuana, which he said is abused by 10 million in this country, Benson said the effects are much longer-lasting than most people suspect.
Traces of marijuana can stay in the system for 30 days, "and people don't know it."
Benson described an experiment with pilots, in which a group used a simulator to "land" as close to the center line of a runway as possible. When they had not used drugs or alcohol, they landed on an average within 12 feet of the center.
Then they were told to smoke marijuana. On average after that, "they missed it by 48 feet."
Four hours after smoking the drug, most thought they no longer had any effects. But when they took the test again, they missed the center line by 36 feet.
Twenty-four hours after taking the marijuana, "they still missed it by 30 feet. . . . They all thought the substance was out of their system."
The moral of his argument was that people should rethink their position if they're advocating legalizing marijuana. More studies should be conducted before any such move is made, he said.