Drug Testing in the Workplace
According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction, 10 percent of the work force uses illicit drugs while on the job, costing their employers $60 billion a year. While lost productivity is responsible for about half the cost, drug users also demand triple in medical and other benefits, compared to non-users, and are five times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim.
Occupations with the highest prevalence of on-the-job drug use are construction, food preparation and food service (waiters and waitresses). Those with the lowest rate of drug use are law enforcement, administrative support, teaching and child-care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Over three quarters of major U.S. companies now have drug-testing programs in place, costing them an estimated $250 million a year.
More and more, drug tests are coming back positive: about 5 percent in the first half of 1998, the same percentage as for the entire previous 12 months. One reason for this is the current low unemployment rate, which means workers are being recruited from a less desirable work pool, according to a report in Occupational Health & Safety (April 1999). Sixty percent of the positive results were for marijuana use and 17 percent were for cocaine. Many workers also tested positive for the use of nitrites, an agent commonly used in attempts to alter urine samples and mask drug use, according to Clinical Laboratories.
“It is more important than ever for businesses to pre-screen employees and do random testing,” says M W, M.D. Dr. W is the medical director of OccNet, the occupational health service of the Health Alliance. “It is also important for businesses to offer anti-drug initiatives and employee assistance programs that provide support for drug users who are identified,” says Dr. W. Such companies report 33-50 percent lower positive test results than companies that only test for drug use.
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