The Widespread Use of Drug Screening for the Workplace

Drug screening is very widespread in the US and many companies use testing to know whether their employees have consumed or not illegal substances. Some try to fake the results by using synthetic urine – in Texas, such an action is punishable by law – so business owners need to know as much as possible about drug testing and how to use it to ensure the safety of their workplace.

How many companies require drug testing?

The practice of asking for drug tests has been on the rise during recent years. 75% of all the companies listed on Fortune 500 ask for such tests, as well as many medium sized and even small businesses.

Studies show the 71% of all companies run a pre-employment test for drugs, and it looks like the practice will continue to be used by a lot of employers. Among large companies, this becomes a more and more common practice, and it looks like many will follow.

Why is this practice so widespread?

image of office workers getting drug tested randomlyThree quarters of those using drugs and are aged 18 and older have jobs, according to estimates. Numbers show a convincing picture for drug testing, as it looks like year round, about 42,000 US citizens go to work while under the influence of illicit substances.

Three quarters of users use drugs at work, according to a national survey involving the calls made at the 800-COCAINE hotline. Authorities estimate that a random drug test for employees aged 18 to 40 would show a quarter of them positive for drug use.

The numbers speak for themselves. Companies have the right to ask for drug screening, either for tangible or intangible reasons. For instance, the Department of Transportation needs to ask for such tests, because a person under the influence of drugs can seriously jeopardize their safety and others’ safety while at work. Other companies ask for such tests so they can receive the insurance discounts for each worker.

There are also less tangible reasons for asking for a drug test. First of all, clean employees ensure a productive and safer environment at work. Various risks associated with drug consumption are lowered, and employees miss work less often. Overall, the chance of unfortunate incidents is greatly reduced and people are kept out of harm’s way. All in all, companies are interested in getting their employees tested because this way, they make sure their workplace is much safer for everyone.

When under the influence of drugs, employees tend to:

  • file for compensation claims 5 times more than those who don’t do drugs
  • suffer an accident at work 4 times more than the rest
  • call on sick or miss work 10 times more than other employees
  • do less work by at least one third
  • burden the healthcare system three times more than others
  • be involved in 40% of deaths registered at the workplace

What drug tests are used?

Several types of drug tests are used today: blood screening, hair follicle screening, urine screening, oral tests and breath analysis. What happens when a drug is absorbed by a person’s body is that it is released into the bloodstream, but it is also broken down by the body, and certain metabolites appear in the blood, urine, saliva or hair of the person tested for drug use. When drug testing companies perform these screenings, they actually look for these metabolites and not for the actual drugs.

How is urine screening performed?

A very common type of drug testing is urine screening. There are actually two stages of performing such a test. First, the drug testing companies obtain a screen called EMIT based on the sample, and then the screen is followed by a test that must confirm or infirm the results that were obtained based on the screen. This is quite widespread and many employers use it.

If an employer wants to pay less for drug testing, they usually just ask for screens. However, this method is not advisable, since the number of false positive results can be quite high. For better understanding, applicants can test positive for drug use, even if they used ibuprofen or poppy seeds, which are completely legal.

One course of action for employers is to ask for the follow up test only when an applicant gets a positive result on the screen phase. This way, any false positive result can be identified, and the costs can be kept as low as possible, with the best possible results.

How are oral rests performed?

Oral tests consist of taking a small sample of saliva from a person’s mouth. The main advantage of this type of test is that it can be performed any time the employer requires. However, these tests can show only very recent drug use, up to 48 hours and says nothing about long use of illicit substances. Still, because the sample cannot be faked by the applicant, these tests are quite popular.

How is hair follicle testing performed?

Unlike oral tests, hair follicle tests will show a long history of drug abuse. Hair grows very slowly, and it can retain the metabolites resulted from the drugs when processed by the body. According to labs, such tests can show drug use for a long duration of time, up to three months. Faking or changing the sample is quite difficult, so hair screening can be used for more accurate results.

Compared to urine screening, hair tests are quite expensive, which is why companies do not use them for pre-employment testing. However, if someone is suspected of long time use of drugs, they can be tested using this method in order to establish the truth. Also, in case someone cannot, for some reason, supply an adequate urine sample, they are asked for a hair sample instead, and they can be tested for drug use.

Hair traps the metabolites from drugs in its follicles. This type of tests actually establishes a history of drug use going back 90 days, and can especially show if the applicant is a heavy drug user. Hair samples can be collected from the head or other parts of the body.

A drug testing company with a longstanding reputation in the field called Quest Diagnostics uses first a type of screen called ELISA that tests for certain enzymes present in the hair in case of drug use.

How are blood tests performed?

Blood samples can be used by employers to establish the state of health of those they have employed. Employees can be tested for HIV, hepatitis, diabetes, or for consumption of nicotine. As a pre-employment type of screening, it is not common, because it is expensive and it is also considered more invasive than all the others.

Also, the presence of drugs in the blood can be tracked only up to 48 hours back in time, so unless someone is using drugs regularly, they can show up as negative. Blood tests are mostly used in case of incidents, such as driving under influence, since they can establish if the use of illegal substances was involved.