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by KELLY GRIFFIN | March 10, 2009

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Contributing Editor, Best Practices in HR

Preemployment drug screening, now a routine part of the hiring process for many (maybe even most) large corporations, is still a practice that many small to mid-size employers have not yet instituted because of the lack of resources, both human and financial. Perhaps it's time to reconsider.

Employee drug use increases the cost of employee health benefits and can present a safety hazard and danger to other employees. As a result, employee drug use becomes a significant liability risk to the company.

Here are some alarming statistics:

  • Close to 75 percent of the nation's drug users are employed. (EAPA Exchange, 2001.)

  • Illegal drug use added $12.9 billion to the cost of health care in 2000. (Office of National Drug Control Policy, White House, 2001.)

  • In 2001, 31.9 percent of adults from 18 to 25 years old reported using illicit drugs in the past year. In the category of ages 26 to 34, 16.1 percent reported the same, and those 35 and older, 6.3 percent. (Office of National Drug Control Policy, Executive Office of the President)

Although many HR professionals may not be surprised by these facts, they may think that their budget can't support preemployment drug screening. And even when the resources to implement drug testing are available, some executives are concerned about the additional time added to the preemployment process in waiting for drug-screening test results to be delivered.

'On-site' options available. Changes in technology over the past several years have made drug screening a faster, less labor-intensive process. There are now some drug screening methods that may not require a full-fledged occupational health function within a firm or the necessity to send an employment candidate to a drug-screening facility off-site. After a consent form for testing has been signed by the applicant, these screenings can be administered by a nurse or, in some instances, a human resources professional. The permission for drug testing could be contained in the same form requesting consent to conduct a reference and background check. Some methods offer quick test results as well, at least in the case of negative readings. Positive readings likely require follow-up testing and analysis.

One such screening device is ORALscreen, by Avitar, Inc. Touted by Avitar (http://www.avitarinc.com) as the first of its kind in the category of oral testing, this screening tests for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamine. As its name implies, ORALscreen is administered by mouth, so it's easy to use and less cumbersome and embarrassing for job applicants than the standard urine testing products in use for years.

Since the person administering the test is present with the individual taking it, no possibility exists for the person taking the drug screen to substitute, or in any way alter, the saliva sample to affect the test results. According to company literature, even someone with a nonmedical background can administer the screening device.

The company also developed ORALadvantage specifically for smaller businesses with limited resources. It's best described as a kit that includes diagnostic and educational tools to assist in the initial development, training, and operation of a drug-free workplace.

Another on-site drug screening tool that achieves negative result readings in minutes is DrugCheck, made by Drug Free Enterprises (http://www.drugcheck.com). This drug screen is a urinalysis-testing device that is self-contained; there is no touching or transference of liquid to another container. Both the ORALscreen test and DrugCheck promise quick results and include the procedures and directions for submitting any positive test results for additional testing.

These and a number of other products promise easy administration and quick results. However, it's crucial to remember that before you use any drug-screening product at your worksite, that some state laws restrict (or even prohibit) on-site testing. It's therefore vital that you check your state laws regarding drug testing before assuming that you are within the law to use any such product designed for on-site testing.

By implementing a preemployment drug-screening policy, employers may save some employee health costs and reduce employee safety concerns and legal issues that are bound to crop up with employees who use drugs. Making drug screening part of a preemployment requirement just like a background and reference check can save employers major headaches in the end.

Online resources. Preemployment drug screening is a step toward operating and promoting a drug-free workplace program. There are many resources available to assist employers and HR professionals in developing or revamping their drug-free workplace initiatives.

For general information regarding such topics as drug-free workplace initiatives, drug screening, and the broader topic of drug abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website (http://www.workplace. samhsa.gov/) is a place to start. Designed to meet the needs of employers, this website covers almost every area of concern regarding drug abuse, workplace issues, policies and procedures, and treatment, or provides the appropriate links to other helpful websites. (Note: SAMHSA is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)

Another good resource is The National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance (NDFWA), a nonprofit drug-free workplace organization that originated with the Drug Advisory Council formed in 1989 through a White House initiative. More information is available at http://www.ndfwa.org/.

For those employers considering the development of an employee assistance program as part of their approach to drug abuse prevention and treatment, the national Employee Assistance Professionals Association website (http://www.eapassn.org) may also be a good starting place as it provides information regarding the 90-plus local chapters of the organization.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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