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Intro to Drug Screening...

Drug testing has become an important safety issue in the workplace for Human Resources and Safety professionals. A large percentage of Fortune 500 companies perform drug testing. The purpose is to lessen the impact from drug abuse in the workplace, including tardiness, absenteeism, turnover, attitude problems, theft, decreased productivity, crime and violence. The US Department of Labor estimates that drug use in the workplace costs employers $75 to $100 billion dollars annually in lost time, accidents, health care and workers compensation costs. Sixty-five percent of all accidents on the job are related to drug or alcohol, and substance abusers utilize 16 times as many health care benefits and are six times more likely to file workers compensation claims then non-abusers.

(Note: The Department or Labor cited various studies that arrived at these figures.  In fact, another widely cited study concluded that the figure is $140 billion dollars. Regardless of the actual number, it represents a significant issue.  However, these figures are estimates by various researchers . While some employers and researchers may question or challenge the statistics or the actual costs of drugs in the workplace, and many of these studies are based on estimates using various models, it does appear from the majority of statistics cited  that substance abuse costs businesses money and has a real impact on bottom lines.  See article link below for links to these  various studies.)

In 1987, a national testing laboratory, SmithKline Beecahm, found that 18.1 percent of all workers tested had positive results. By 1997, that figure was down to 5.4 percent. Drug experts debate whether this means drug use has fallen, or drug abusers simply avoid employers that test and instead apply at firms that do not test. Either way, most HR and Safety professionals have found that drug testing can be a valuable and cost-effective risk management tool.

Drug Testing Programs

A drug-testing program should not be implemented without first establishing policies and procedures. The most common type of testing program is pre-employment. Courts have consistently upheld the legality of requiring a pre-employment drug test as a condition of employment. It is a best practice to obtain a consent and to clearly indicate drug testing is a requirement for employment.

If a firm plans to conduct post-hiring testing for current employees, then the employer should include training and education for supervisors and employees, as well as guidelines for discipline in the event of a positive test. Post employment testing includes random testing (for safety sensitive positions), individualized suspicion testing, post accident testing, and testing that is legally required in certain industries, such as Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements concerning truck drivers. Each of these types of testing is legally sensitive, and an employer should have a program in place before starting.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state laws provides protection for people who are in rehabilitation for a drug addition, the ADA does not protect people currently using illegal drugs, and does not affect drug testing.

How is the testing conducted?

Most drug testing is done by sending an applicant to a collection site, where a urine sample is obtained and sent to a certified laboratory for analysis. Negative results are normally available within 24 hours. There are instant test kits on the market. These are similar to home pregnancy tests and require the employer to manipulate a urine sample. Although these tests are considered accurate for immediate screening, they are useless in the event of a positive result, since that requires laboratory confirmation and retention of a sample for retesting by the subject. In addition, they are not that much less expensive then laboratory tests.

What is tested?

Most employers utilize a standard five-panel test of "street drugs," consisting of Marijuana (THC), Cocaine, PCP, Opiates (such as codeine and morphine) and Amphetamines (including methamphetamine). Some employers use a ten-panel test, which includes prescription drugs that are legal to possess and use. Employers can also test for alcohol.

Although each drug and person is different, most drugs will stay in the system for 2-4 days. For chronic users of certain drugs, such a marijuana or PCP, results can be detected for up to 14 days, and sometimes much longer. Sedatives, such as Valium, may stay in the system for up to 30 days. When the more expensive hair testing method is used, drugs can be detected for a 90-day period. To avoid the complications from "second hand" marijuana smoke, most labs will set a higher threshold before reporting THC in the system.

Most employers will insist that a job applicant give the urine sample within a specific period of time, so that a drug user does not wait until the drugs leave the system. Some drug experts consider a drug test to be an IQ test—taking a test knowing there are drugs in the system is not a sign of great intelligence. Laboratories and collection sites also have ways to determine if the applicant has attempted to alter the test sample.

What happens if there is a positive test or abnormal test?

Testing labs have extensive procedures to re-confirm a positive test before reporting it. Most drug testing programs also utilize the services of an independent physician called a Medical Review Officer (MRO) to review all test results. In the case of a positive result, the MRO will normally contact the subject to determine if there is a medical explanation for the positive results. For example, eating poppy seeds before a test can result in a false positive for opiates. However, an MRO also knows that poppy seeds cannot cause certain levels of opiates, and certain additional testing can eliminate that.

There can also be tests that  are "negative' but show an abnormal result, such as a "low creatine level," which can indicate an applicant attempted to dilute the sample by the excessive drinking of water or some other form of alteration.  That is also a result that a MRO would examine. 

If the positive test is confirmed, the subject should have the right to pay for a retesting of the sample they gave at a laboratory of their choice. Urine samples for all positive tests are retained for that purpose. Merely taking a new test is not helpful since the drugs may have left the system. Reputable and certified laboratories will stand behind their results and provide expert witnesses, although the chances of a false positive is practically nil.

If a current employee tests positive, then the employer must follow the policies and procedures they have put into place. Some employers will utilize an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which can arrange for professional assessment and treatment recommendations. All drug-testing results should be maintained on a confidential basis separate from an employees’ personnel file.

Cost/Benefit

Pre-employment drug testing programs can be set up with a minimal amount of effort. Firms that operate from a single location can usually turn to a local medical clinic for tests. For firms with multiple locations, or who have applicants from various areas, programs can be set-up through drug testing agencies to allow testing at locations convenient to the job applicant throughout the United States.

Most employers find that a drug-testing program will eliminate people with problem, and not good applicants. Drug tests for small to medium employers generally cost in the $50-$70.00 range, including collection of the sample, laboratory analysis, services of a Medial Review Officer (MRO), and communications of the results in the manner most convenient to the employer. Compared to the cost of even one employee with a substance abuse problem, most firms find eliminating the problem in the first place is well worth the time and money involved in a drug-testing program.

For more information, see: http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/2011/08/12/studies-show-drugs-in-workplace-cost-employers-billions-and-small-businesses-employ-more-drug-users-but-drug-test-less/ 

 
 

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