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Our Story

     Workers for Ethical Substance Use Policy Society (WESUP) was established as a non-profit organization in 2021. Our purpose is to to fight for systemic change to harmful workplace substance use policy and to advocate for and provide support to workers who are affected by these policies.

     For far too long, workers who use substances and workers who have substance use challenges, have been stigmatized and marginalized in the workplace. Workers are often branded as being an inherent danger to workplace safety and are removed from the workplace and coerced into outdated, invasive, harmful, and profit driven addiction treatment & monitoring programs, and denied access to ethical and evidence-based health care. 


     In Vancouver, 2015, a small group of workers started sharing stories of being harmed by workplace substance use policy. Some workers had been removed from the workplace on the mere suspicion of a substance use issue, without any evidence of being impaired at work.  Some workers had voluntarily reached out to their employers asking for help with their substance use challenges or with other physical or mental health conditions.

     After being singled out by their employer for having a suspected substance use issue, workers are often required to undergo addiction assessments from one of a small group of physicians chosen by their employer. The approach used by these physicians is based on outdated beliefs and stereotypes about people who use psychoactive substances.

     Information about workers’ substance use is often taken out of context and any use of a psychoactive substance, even outside of the workplace, is seen as a threat to workplace safety. Any use of illicit substances is automatically considered a “substance use disorder” regardless of the individual circumstances of the worker.

     Based solely on the diagnosis of "substance use disorder," workers are stripped of their autonomy to make their own health care decisions, and coerced into strict one-size-fits-all treatment & monitoring programs that do not meet the minimum standards of services available to the general public. 

     Workers are coerced into signing contracts with their employers (typically 3-5 years long) that require them to follow the recommendations of the addiction physicians.


   The contracts mandate 24/7 abstinence, with the threat of job loss if workers do not comply.


     Workers are prohibited from using Opioid Agonist Therapy (Methadone/Suboxone) medications. Workers are prohibited from using certain psychiatric medications, and workers are prohibited from using most pain medications. This blanket prohibition on medications is not supported by evidence, and has had devastating effects on the health of many workers including putting us at increased risk of drug toxicity death.

     Abstinence is enforced through random testing of urine, blood, breath, hair follicles, liver enzymes and even toe nails.  A worker can be subjected to a  test at any time, even when on vacation, or extended leave. A single positive test can result in the treatment and monitoring contract being extended by multiple years. 


     Despite their personal and cultural beliefs, workers are required to attend inpatient addiction treatment centres that are based on the 12-step philosophy, and to attend daily 12-step peer support meetings. Many workers object to the religious and moralistic nature of these programs which are based on Christian doctrine. However, workers are often prohibited from accessing non-religious psychosocial treatments that are available to the general public. 

Workers are not given the option of outpatient health care services.

     Compliance to these mandates is tracked by private medical monitoring companies. Workers have to pay exorbitant costs for this (up to $1000/month out of pocket) to the private companies which are often owned by the referring physicians. 


If workers do not follow all the conditions of the treatment and monitoring contracts the worker is deemed to be "non-compliant," and they risk losing their job and any professional license that they may hold.

     Workers typically have no choice in the physician that assesses them, and no choice as to their treatment goals or treatment plan. They are not offered any harm reduction services, withdrawal management, trauma informed care, anti-craving medication, or mental health services. They are not allowed to access services through the publicly funded health care system, are not typically allowed to get a second medical opinion, and there is no appeal process for them to challenge the assessment, diagnosis, or conditions to which they are subjected. 

Workers may be forced or coerced into these programs by their employer, regulatory body, insurance provider or WorkSafe BC. If a worker does not comply they may lose their job, professional license, insurance benefits or workers compensation.

     These workplace substance use policies take a huge toll on workers mental health and often make their substance use problems worse. Some workers have been bankrupted by the medical monitoring costs. Some workers have been forced to abandon their careers. 

     As more and more workers shared similar stories of being harmed by workplace substance use policy, we banded  together and established a nonprofit organization so that workers can support and advocate for each other. Workers can exchange information about their rights, get support advocating for themselves, mount legal challenges and fight for policy change.

These workplace substance use policies are based on the unfounded belief that any person who use substances or who has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, poses an inherent risk to workplace safety, and the unfounded belief that the appropriate way to deal with that supposed risk is through forced medical assessments, forced abstinence, forced treatment, forced drug testing and forced compliance monitoring.

This approach does not improve workplace safety. Instead it singles out vulnerable workers, violates our bodily autonomy, and our right to consent to health care, causes harm and puts us at increased risk of drug toxicity death.


     We’re demanding a new and humane approach to addressing workers’ substance use. Workers should be offered voluntary, confidential, culturally appropriate, trauma-informed health care services that are based on current harm reduction / health promotion principles. 

     As our membership reflects, workers from many different professions are subjected to harmful workplace substance use policy.

     If you have been harmed by a workplace substance use policy and want more information about advocating for your rights, or just want someone to talk to,  please contact us.


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