Not all drug-using employees should be treated equally, says Larry Read, CEO of $30-million Oil Changers. He favors those who voluntarily admit their problem, because he believes they are more likely to reform than those who wait to be caught.

In 44 Oil Changers shops from San Francisco to San Diego, 580 full-time workers perform 10-minute oil changes on a high volume of vehicles. "It's a great place to dispense drugs," Read says. So he insists that employees sign authorizations for random tests. When Read conducts a "probable cause" test, to confirm a tip or a strong suspicion of drug use, 25% of the subjects typically fail. Employees who flunk must pay for their own monthly urine tests during a three-month probation period. A second failure -- ever -- means termination. Read says 75% of workers who fail a test fail again within three months.

But there's help for workers who admit to a problem before being caught. Oil Changers covers all costs for two types of rehabilitation programs, depending on the level of addiction: 30 days at a center, or after-work support-group meetings. Jobs are guaranteed. Read says 90% of employees who participate stay with the company.

He puts the total cost of his drug program at about $130,000 a year, most of that for rehab and drug testing. A month of rehab costs about $5,000 per employee; about 15 employees attend in a year. Recovering abusers can attend support-group meetings indefinitely -- 21 do so at about $200 each, yearly. Repeat tests ($15 each) run about $45,000 annually.

Read sees direct returns in decreased internal theft and in fewer warranty claims, which have been halved. And he doesn't discount the workers' morale boost. "They go through the program and they're dedicated people, reenergized about the job and the company." -- Phaedra Hise

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