Introduction and background

Whilst there is at present no evidence to suggest that substance use and abuse represents a major problem at this University, the risk still remains and we should be prepared to deal with it. A number of procedures have been developed which take into account the fact that possessing, giving away or selling a drug covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) is against the law. Policies and guidelines have been introduced to deal with the rare incidents which occur amongst the student population: this document addresses the even rarer examples of substance abuse amongst staff.

Throughout this document, "substance" is intended to include prescription drugs, alcohol, solvents and nicotine and "illicit substance" indicates those drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971). The phrase "substance abuse" also covers the use of illicit substances.

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General aims

The University recognises its duty of care towards its employees and views substance abuse as a medical problem rather than a disciplinary matter. There may be occasions when disciplinary measures will need to be taken and this documents seeks to define these in broad terms. This document also aims:

  1. to provide practical guidelines for staff who encounter employees exhibiting signs of suffering from substance abuse;

  2. to describe the procedures to be followed when dealing with a member of staff who is suspected to be suffering from substance abuse;

  3. to provide guidance for dealing with employees who are suffering from long-term substance abuse.

The University will consider each case individually on its own merits and will endeavour to act reasonably. It is not the University’s policy to intrude on the privacy of individuals, particularly in health matters, where their condition does not affect their conduct or work. The University must, however, be concerned where health or behaviour impair the conduct, safety or work performance of its staff and it recognises that the misuse of substances may be a cause of such impairment.

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University Policy on illicit drug use

The possession and supply of drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) is against the law. Accordingly, the University undertakes to deal with staff who commit such offences and who may thereby bring the University into disrepute. The University also recognises that it has a duty of care towards its employees and will therefore endeavour to provide health education and information about the dangers of illicit drug use and will refer those who need help with any form of substance abuse to the appropriate support agencies.

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Promoting the University's Policy

The University will try to promote an environment in which the use of illicit drugs is discouraged and where staff who are suffering from substance abuse feel able to seek help without fear of recrimination. The policy will be made known to all members of staff and details of the counselling services that are available will be published from time to time.

Early identification of individuals with a substance abuse problem is the key to the policy working effectively and opportunities will be provided for College Deans, First Aiders, Trade Union Representatives and other staff as appropriate to learn about the University’s Policy, how to recognise the signs of substance abuse, how to deal with incidents and what welfare services are available to provide support and advice.

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Practical guidelines

It is not in the long-term best interests of a colleague to cover up for a substance abuse problem and staff should always be encouraged to seek treatment for themselves in the first instance.

If a member of staff encounters suspected illegal substances on the campus he/she should contact the University Security Officer who, in conjunction with a senior officer of the University, will decide whether or not to inform the police. This decision will be based on a full assessment of the circumstances and a consideration of the likely consequences.

If a member of staff encounters a colleague who appears to be suffering from substance abuse and who may represent a danger to himself/herself, to others or to University property, then they should seek help from a porter or the Estate Patrol. The nature of the incident will, of course, have a direct bearing on the way in which it is dealt with and the incident should be kept in perspective at all times. Staff should endeavour to remain calm and should not put themselves in any danger. Details of the incident should be recorded clearly and accurately to assist with any subsequent investigation. The employee concerned should, at an appropriate time, be advised to go to the appropriate support agency as detailed in the section on Advice and support services.

Staff who have not undergone training cannot be expected to deal with cases of substance abuse but if acute intoxication, physical collapse or unconsciousness are encountered they should be treated as a medical emergency. In such cases:

  1. call an ambulance:

    - DIAL 3999 FROM ANY UNIVERSITY EXTENSION and give details to the Estate Patrol
    - Then call Estate Patrol (Exeter 263999)

  2. carry out immediate first aid measures (see attached appendix), and

  3. keep any tablets or substances that are found; they will be checked at the hospital. If the person has been sick, keep a sample of the vomit for the hospital to analyse.

If a member of staff encounters a colleague who appears intoxicated but who does not pose an immediate danger to himself/herself or to others, then a porter should be contacted. As well as having a duty of care to the employee, the University could be liable to claims from any third party injured by an employee under the influence of alcohol or drugs: it is therefore important to ensure a safe return home for the employee. If the level of intoxication is such as to have a serious detrimental effect on the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties then it may be necessary to issue a formal warning with regard to future conduct.

If a member of staff has reasonable grounds for suspecting a colleague of using illicit substances on University premises, or whilst at work or whilst representing the University, or if a colleague is suspected of trafficking illicit substances, then the Director of Human Resources may be informed. Such offences will be viewed very seriously and will be thoroughly investigated. Mitigating circumstances would be considered and medical opinions sought but, if proven, such an offence could result in summary dismissal and/or criminal prosecution.

If a member of staff has concerns that a colleague may be suffering from the long-term effects of substance abuse then he/she should attempt to discuss these concerns with the colleague in the first instance. The colleague should be encouraged to seek appropriate medical counselling and to discuss his/her condition with his/her College Dean. If the colleague refuses to acknowledge his/her condition then it may be necessary to bring the matter to the attention of the College Dean.

If the College Dean believes that there is a serious problem then he/she will offer appropriate help. This may include specialist counselling or medical treatment. Where absence from work is required e.g. for treatment, this will be treated as sick leave. On return to work following treatment the member of staff will normally return to the same or equivalent work but it may be necessary to consider redeployment in some cases. If treatment is unsuccessful then early retirement or severance may have to be considered. At all stages, the member of staff should be kept informed of the steps being taken and, in so far as is possible, the consent of the member of staff should be sought. If the member of staff refuses to take advantage of the help offered and if there is no improvement in his/her performance then disciplinary action may be required.

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Advice and support services

A range of confidential sources of support is available to employees involved in substance use. Employees should be made aware of the help that is at hand and be encouraged to make use of it:

Staff Counselling Service

Referrals to this service are made through the Occupational Health Adviser by telephone or email.

Chaplaincy Group

Operates a listening service available to all staff: telephone Exeter 264240 or Exeter 264802.


A student-run listening service: telephone Exeter 75006/75007.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Exeter 221444.

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