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What The Employers Need to Know About Workplace Drug Testing?

Employer drug testing has become an important safety issue in the workplace not only for employees, but for human resources and safety professionals as well. It is estimated that over 98% of all the Fortune 500 companies conduct drug testing. The purpose of employer drug testing is to lessen the impact from drug abuse in the workplace. This includes tardiness, absenteeism, turnover, attitude problems, theft, deceased productivity, crime and violence. The US Department of Labor has estimated that drug use in the workplace costs employers anywhere from $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 abuse, and substance abusers utilize sixteen times as many health care benefits and are six times more likely to file workers compensation claims then non-drug abusers.

Drug experts are debating on whether drug abuse has fallen, or drug abusers simply avoid employers that test and instead apply at companies that do not test. Either way, most human resource and safety professionals have found drug testing to be a valuable and cost-effective risk management tool. When implementing a drug-testing program, policies and procedures should be established. Pre-employment drug testing is the most common type of testing program. Courts have consistently upheld the legality of requiring a pre-employment drug testing as a condition of employment.

However, if a firm plans to conduct post-hiring drug 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 drug 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.

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 also instant drug testing and alcohol testing kits on the market that are available for employers to use. These are similar to home pregnancy tests and require the employer to collect a urine sample. These drug tests and alcohol tests are considered accurate for immediate screening at the convenience of the employer.

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 blood alcohol levels through alcohol testing kits.

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.

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.

Employers who conduct employer drug testing will find that a drug testing program will eliminate people with a drug abuse problem. Drug tests generally cost in the $50-$70.00 range, including collection of the sample, laboratory analysis, services of a Medial Review Officer, 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 an employer drug testing program.

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