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A History of Drug Testing in the US

JP Martin Nobel Prize Chormatography

It may surprise you to know that even though humans have been using drugs for 6,000 years drug testing is a relatively new invention. Our history of drug testing really didn’t start until the 1980s when a handful of workplace accidents spurred the federal government to take a closer look.

The earliest recorded use of drugs was by the early Egyptian dynasties. The medical and religious use of marijuana can be traced back nearly 5,000 years in China.

The Rigveda (ancient canonical text of Hindu) mentions Soma more than 3500 years ago, a drink that was extracted from a plant that was said to produce immortality. Historians and researchers believe it was a plant extract that resembled ephedrine or other stimulants.

It wasn’t until the 19th century when cultures started purifying, synthesizing and altering organic substances that drugs became more powerful and the negative effects of drug use started to become apparent.

Earliest Drug Testing in the Equine Industry

The first drug testing was used in horse racing. European horse trainers brought the techniques of doping horses with them to America which was soon adopted by many American horse trainers in the early 1910s. The first horseman that was suspected publicly of doping horses was John Oliver Keene, better known as Jack Keene, the developer of Keeneland.

While racing in Russia he began dominating the circuit. Russian trainers became suspect and devised a plan to test the horse’s saliva after they suspected Keene had fed drugs to the horses by force feeding the horse saliva to frogs. The frogs began acting erratically and soon Jack Keene was banned from horse racing in Russia.

Once back in America where he founded Raceland park and eventually Keeneland.


Jack Keene
Jack Keene, the founder of Keeneland, was subject to an early form of equine drug testing in Russia were horse saliva was force fed to frogs.


From 1930-1950 several drug testing labs for the equine industry were set up across the country. They mostly tested the saliva of horses using microcrystalline testing.

Saliva samples were mixed  solvents and then combined with reagents. Once the solvents evaporated the crystalline residues that were left were examined under a microscope and compared with crystals produced by known drugs used by equestrians.

In the 1950s chromatography was substantially improved by Archer John Porter Martin and Richard Laurence Millington Synge who both won the Nobel prize in chemistry for their work. Chromatography quickly became the primary technique for drug testing over the next decade.



Thin Film Chromatography
Chromatography is a process were samples are dissolved in a solvent and then subjected to multiple test phases which result in the components being separated and measured.


Early practitioners used thin film chromatography which was soon replaced by gas chromatography.

History of Drug Testing in the Workforce: Ford Sociological Department

It is now widely accepted that drug testing employees increases productivity and safety and reduces employee turnover, but management noticed this trend long before data was collected or published about it.

In the 1910s Henry Ford’s automobile business was booming. The increase in sales meant that he needed to keep approximately 15,000 workers manning his assembly lines.

At the time auto work was a dangerous, tedious and low paying job that had a high turnover rate. In 1913 Ford had hired a total of 52,000 workers even though there were never more than 15,000 on the payroll at one time.


Early Ford Assembly Line
The assembly line was crowded and relied on moving the heavy automobiles between stations. This new technique was dangerous and was made even more dangerous by employees that were drunk or intoxicated. It became important for Ford to identify and remove employees that were a danger to others.


In 1914 Henry Ford doubled the hourly rate for his employees from $2.34 to $5. The increased salary came with strings attached. Employees had to be continually employed by Ford for 6 months before receiving their raise, and they also had to submit to the Ford Sociological Department.

Ford wanted his employees to become model citizens. Shift leaders had long suspected that employees that drank and gambled were not as productive, and such a large increase if pay afforded the company the opportunity to intrusively monitor their employees for degenerate behavior.

Besides the increase in pay Ford offered workers that signed up for the Sociological department many other incentives. These included:

  • An English School for immigrants
  • Assistance with transitioning from rentals to home ownership
  • Low cost loans for housing and furniture
  • Access to lawyers on staff
  • Free access to medical care for employees and their family

The program was paternalistic, intrusive and expensive. Most workers whole heartedly bought in however because the benefits were so great that the invasion of their privacy seemed minimal.


Ford Sociological Department Results
These photos from the Henry Ford archive show the increase in living standards for Ford employees during the program. The photos on the left are prior to the program, the photos on the right are during the program.


The program was also successful. Turnover fell from 370% in 1913 to just 16% in 1915. Due to controversy, economic cost and a reorganization of the company Ford’s Sociological Department ended in 1920. Even Henry Ford himself disagreed with many of the intrusions the department brought with it. In Ford’s 1922 autobiography he said so himself.

“paternalism has no place in industry. Welfare work that consists in prying into employees’ private concerns is out of date. Men need counsel and men need help, often special help; and all this ought to be rendered for decency’s sake. But the broad workable plan of investment and participation will do more to solidify industry and strengthen organization than will any social work on the outside.”Henry Ford , My Life and Work-An Autobiography of Henry Ford

Even though drug testing itself wasn’t a part of Ford’s sociology experiment, the whole program was an early 20th century equivalent to drug testing which has been distilled down to a single scientific test that lacks the controversy of an intrusive spy ring. The results were similar and were in line with the drive to increase productivity and worker efficiency by auto manufacturers of the day.

History of Drug Testing in the 1980s: Employment

Beginning in 1980 there were several high profile workplace accidents that were linked to on the job drug use.

In 1981 an accident aboard the USS Nimitz left 14 sailors dead and 48 injured. Property damage was estimated at $150 million and when autopsies were performed it was found that six sailors tested positive for marijuana.

The Department of Defense acted quickly adopting several new policies for drug testing and drug use in the military.

In 1987 a Conrail train crashed into an Amtrak passenger train north of Baltimore after running a warning signal. During the NTSB investigation that followed it was found that engineer Ricky Gates tested positive for marijuana and PCP. The brakeman Eddie Cromwell also tested positive for PCP but was given immunity for testifying that the crew was smoking marijuana just before the accident.

Sixteen people died in the Conrail crash and 174 were injured. The NTSB ruled that drug impairment was the root cause of the disaster.



Ricky Gates was charged with manslaughter and was released after spending 4 years in prison. During a subsequent interview with the Baltimore Sun Gates said that the accident would not have happened if he hadn’t been smoking marijuana. He said the drug threw his perception of speed and time off and that he had skipped critical safety measures in his rush to get back to Baltimore and get high.

Drug Free Workplace and Omnibus Acts

As drug use and on the job accidents attributed to drugs continued to rise it became a common story in news media.

In 1986 Ronald Reagan used his executive powers as President to issue Executive Order 12564 which required mandatory drug testing for federal employees.

In response Congress passed the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 which outlined drug testing regulations for businesses that received federal contracts, but also informed the drug policy of businesses across the country.

Discounts to workers compensation plans and corporate insurance lead many companies to institute their own drug free workplace policies even though they were not subject to the same federal oversight.

It became clear that the biggest dangers of workplace drug use was in the transportation industry. In 1991 Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act which requires drug testing for all safety sensitive employees in the transportation industry. The Department of Transportation oversees mandatory random drug testing and pre-screening for employees in trucking, railroads, aviation, pipeline, public transit and other transportation related industries.

Widespread Adoption and Drug Testing Advancements

During the 1980s immunoassays were developed with increased sensitivity that were necessary to detect highly potent drugs. The pinnacle of early immunoassay testing was enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA).

In 1988 with the expanding role of independent labs in testing employees subject to the drug free workplace policy the government standardized laboratory oversight with the CLIA amendment. Laboratories were subject to CLIA since the initial law was passed in 1967, but the new amendments helped clarify the regulations and policies regarding the different complexities.

In the early 1990s laboratories started using gas chromatography with mass spectroscopy (GC/MS) to confirm drug test results. This new technology brought sensitivity and accuracy to new levels.

Since more and more businesses were integrating drug free workplace policies and drug testing employees scientists developed rapid drug tests that could be used on site and give near instant results for employers.

A laboratory will now have multiple methods for testing samples for drug use and the sensitivity is many orders of magnitude smaller than isolating crystals from horse saliva. Labs can also test several different samples including blood, urine, saliva and hair.

Rapid testing has improved to the point many companies administer their own drug testing on site and only involve a lab when there is a positive or inconclusive result.

Since the 2000s new equipment that utilizes liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry (LC/MS) and triple stage mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS). The latest advancements use what is called ultra high performance liquid chromatography with high resolution mass spectrometry (UHLC/HRMS).

While even the best LC/MS equipment was mostly used for confirmations because the number of molecules that could be tested was small and once data is collected the test could not be replayed to seek out other molecules. The new UHLC/HRMS equipment scans over a much larger range and can identify hundreds of molecules. Once the test is run the collected data can be analyzed afterward to screen for additional compounds.


Drug testing techniques sensitivity comparison
This table shows the increasing sensitivity of drug testing with each new iteration of drug testing technology.


Dealing With COVID and Rising Drug Use

As 2020 began COVID 19 caused many businesses to implement work from home programs and suspend random drug testing for employees to limit contact. Many researchers theorized that drug abuse would increase and as inflated numbers of overdose deaths started to come in across the country it seemed their prediction was accurate.

It came as a shock when it was reported that positive employment drug tests were at their highest levels since 2003, and that the data for that statement was from 2019 and not during the pandemic.


2019 Drug Test Positivity Rate
This map shows the percentage of areas that had positive drug test results performed by Quest Diagnostics. Areas in the northeast and northwest were especially hard hit by increased employee drug use.


As the pandemic winds down and employees return to their offices it’s likely we will see another increase in positive drug test results.

If the history of drug testing has taught us anything it’s that when employees use drugs productivity and workplace safety suffers while turnover and liability increases. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) estimated that 70%, or over 10 million of Americans who use drugs are employed and cost employers a total of $81 billion annually. It has never been more important for employers to adhere to a drug free workplace program.

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Drug Testing Remote Employees

drug testing remote employees

With many companies electing to allow employees to work remotely during the pandemic, businesses are interested in the best methods of drug testing remote employees. Fortunately there are several options available for drug testing remote employees depending on your company’s specific situation.

Have Remote Employees Report to The Office for Drug Testing

The easiest method of drug testing remote employees is to have those employees come in for staff meetings or performance reviews on a regular basis. You can select employees to be randomly tested at their next meeting or call employees at random.

The primary benefit of having your employees report the office is that you do not have to change your drug testing regimen if you were drug testing on site before the pandemic.

One drawback is that once an employee has been made aware of their next appointment they can prepare to possibly be drug tested. Most people that use drugs are aware of drug testing procedures and they will be suspicious about any request to report to the office whether you mention a drug test or not.

If a company’s workforce is local to the business location and there is a skeleton staff still at the office this is by far the easiest, cheapest and most convenient option.

Since multiple employees will be entering your building you will need to escalate sterilization practices and institute procedures to safeguard everyone from viral infections.


wearing a mask in the office
Any contact between remote employees and employees at the office must be handled with care. Require masks and check everyone’s temperature that enters your place of business.


This will include measures like taking everyone’s temperature, mandating protective equipment, having everyone use hand sanitizer, keeping an appropriate distance between employees and possibly installing sneeze guards in rooms where an employee reporting for drug testing will interact with the employee administering the test.

Keep employees exposure limited with an efficient process and sterilizing areas that could possibly be infected between appointments.

Outsource Drug Testing to a Local Laboratory or Drug Testing Company

Another option that could work well if to temporarily outsource drug testing to a third party. Employees could be notified by phone and given a set time limit to report to the lab for testing.

Some benefits of outsourcing is that a company specializing in drug testing will have more experience administering drug tests. They may catch more people trying to cheat, they will be liable for any legal issues and it removes any question of an employee of your company showing favoritism to others.

The primary drawback of outsourcing your drug testing is the cost. It can cost 10x-100x more per employee for a drug testing company or lab to administer testing. In addition to the cost drug testing facilities are prone to corruption.

In March of this year a supervisor at a drug testing facility in Las Vegas was charged with accepting bribes from federal probationers in exchange for concealing their positive and missed drug tests. The employee, Billy Joe West, plead guilty in June. In December of 2018 a drug tester in Waldorf Maryland was charged with similar crimes after accepting a bribe during an undercover sting.

Corruption in drug testing companies is rarely investigated and employees are often paid low wages. If employees that have the responsibility of testing federal parolees are so easily coerced, how easy would it be to bribe an employee that is handling employment tests?

You can always switch back in an in house drug testing program after the pandemic subsides and it could be helpful to have this option as a backup for any future issues.

Test Patients During Telehealth Screenings

One of the more adaptive clinicians we have spoken with, George L. Swanberg, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner, and the Executive Director of Life Line Counseling Center in Warrenton Virginia, has developed a procedure for alcohol testing through Zoom meetings.

Using Alco-Screen strips and observing the patient closely he has them follow these instructions:

  1. In view of the camera the client rips open the packet, removes the strip, and shows me the beige end.
  2. Then, I watch him/her put it on the saliva laden tongue for about 30 sec. 
  3. Then they remove it and show it to the camera for about 30+ seconds. 

Very important: I then have them place a drop of alcohol hand sanitizer on the pad and show it to me. 

If it turns green I’ve not only tested the client but tested the veracity of the test so I know they did not defeat the enzyme process by sticking it in the microwave or through another method first. 

COVID restrictions have allowed practitioners leeway in how they handle screening. It is better to develop some sort of testing guidelines than to suspend testing entirely. It is up to clinicians to set their own precedents and develop their own procedures when operating under undocumented circumstances.

DNA Verified Samples

A technology that isn’t well known in the drug testing industry is using DNA verification for laboratory samples. This would be an interesting option for companies that have remote employees scattered across the country.

The company mails the employee their urine screen with directions and the employee provides the sample at their convenience and ships it to the laboratory. An express shipping option with signature confirmation is used to strengthen the chain of custody.

The laboratory uses a one time mouth swab in combination with a sealed urine cup and can match the urine sample to the employee that is supposed to be the donor. The gas chromatography confirmation techniques used would be adjusted to specifically look for any type of adulteration as well.

Gentox lab’s NextGenUDT product is one of many DNA confirmation products available in the United States. Gentox’s CEO claims that their DNA verification definitively authenticates samples, reveals mislabeling errors, and detects urine sample substitutions.


Verified DNA Drug Test
A DNA verified drug test comes with a mouth swab that will later be used to match the subject’s DNA to the DNA of the urine donor.


The major drawback to this type of testing is the cost. DNA verification in addition to even the most basic laboratory test drug test would be much more expensive than an internal drug testing program. However this is an elegant solution and for some companies the benefit will justify the cost.

The benefits are that a licensed lab will be conducting the most thorough lab testing available, it would be very convenient for your employees and it reduces the risk of adulteration through substitution.

Suspend Your Drug Testing Program for a Short Time

Federal regulatory agencies have given businesses more leeway with meeting their guidelines due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic. Many doctors offices have been allowed to schedule patients for telemedicine appointments and courts have even postponed trials.

You could contact your lawyer and ask about how a temporary suspension of your drug testing policy would affect your legal responsibilities. The American Society of Addiction Medicine has published guidelines for the unique considerations medical professionals are facing during this time.

Always consult a legal professional before taking any action that could affect your business’s adherence to your drug free workplace policy. You could be held liable down the road and even an act of God like a pandemic may not be a good enough excuse.

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Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients

Drug Test for Welfare

Do drug tests for welfare recipients save money or have any positive effects on society? Most of the data published has echoed the sentiments of the organization that published it. It’s not easy to quantify the success of these programs because the number of welfare applicants change as the economy improves and declines.

In a study conducted and touted by Think Progress they found that only 1% out of the 263,000 applicants that could have been subjected to drug testing were rejected. Think Progress is a liberal organization that sets out to oppose drug testing for welfare recipients.

Their claim is somewhat misleading; the 263,000 number is included in almost every mention of the study but it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the results. Also states enacting drug testing expect it to deter applicants that wouldn’t be able to pass a screening.


Drug Tests for Welfare in 2018
Thinkprogress showed that overall a lot of money was spent to have only a small percentage of applicants test positive.


For example Utah spent $30,000 in 2013 on their drug tests for welfare program, but only 12 people tested positive. 250 others did not meet testing requirements however and Governor Brad Wilson stated that denying benefits to those people alone saved the state $350,000. Brad Wilson has a vested interested in the success of the program because he promoted it.

It would be hard to calculate the number of people that did not apply because they knew they had a drug habit and did not want to subject themselves to testing.

In another instance of organizations pushing their agendas the Florida Civil Liberties union found that Florida’s welfare drug testing program cost the state $45,000 more in testing than it saved in welfare payments. After a Florida judged blocked the bill and made the state pay out benefits retroactively the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability showed that costs grew quickly which suggests that the law was saving money.

Arguments for Drug Testing

There have been several arguments made for mandatory drug tests for welfare recipients. The primary motivation for voters is that they believe their tax money should not be given out in entitlements that subsidize behavior they disapprove of.

Some of the primary goals of welfare drug test programs are

  • Referring people that test positive to treatment
  • incentivizing recipients to abstain from drug use
  • reduce spending on welfare
  • identifying custodians of minors that use drugs
  • denying benefits to people that would subsidize their drug habit with them

Proponents point out that most employers drug test their employees and think that it isn’t fair that welfare recipients do not work and aren’t subjected to the same scrutiny.

Arguments Against Drug Testing

The primary arguments against drug testing recipients are

  • The cost outweighs the savings
  • drug addicts on welfare are deterred from seeking treatment
  • such laws unfairly target poor and minority citizens
  • it’s a violation of the 4th amendment

32 proposed bills focused on drug tests for welfare recipients in 2009 and 2010 but none of them made it to a legislative vote because they mostly focused on testing every applicant as a requirement for receiving benefits.

A 2003 court of appeals case Marchwinski v. Howard found that subjecting every welfare recipient to drug testing with no reasonable suspicion was unconstitutional. However the federal government does require any employee that works for a company that competes for federal contracts to be subjected to random drug testing under the Drug Free Workplace Act.

Opponents of these laws say that the premise itself is discriminatory because it suggests that welfare recipients are more likely to use drugs. In the vein of the Drug Free Workplace Act you could look at it as anyone that accepts federal or state funds is subject to higher scrutiny.

Public Sentiment

Public sentiment is divided about drug testing welfare recipients, but it’s not divided along party lines as much as other mainstream topics of political discussion.

Since we could not find a published study that didn’t seem to have a political bias at its core we decided to do our own survey about the public’s opinion on drug testing welfare applicants and recipients.

In a study we conducted of 400 random Kentucky residents 183 said they did not support drug testing welfare applicants, 116 said they did support drug testing welfare applicants, and 101 had a mixed opinion and did not definitively choose. I expected the results to be closer to an even split, but it was clear that overall the majority of the public doesn’t clearly support welfare drug testing legislation.

We hoped that the participants would correspond to political affiliation and income levels nationally, but we had a higher level of lower income individuals.

A surprising aspect is that the group that most likely supported drug testing welfare recipients were recovering drug addicts. There was also a level of bi-partisan support on the basis of “if I have to be drug tested to work my job they should be drug tested to receive my taxes”.


SentimentNumber of Votes
No183 (46%)
Yes116 (29%)
Unclear101 (25%)


Some of the reasoning we received from people surveyed was very interesting. Here is a sample of some of the more interesting remarks.

No Voters

“I’m a hater of government assistance but I still don’t see any fairness in requiring drug tests for benefits. We don’t drug test business owners that get tax breaks or subsidies.” – M.B.

“A lot of these same folks would end up homeless, clogging the streets, increasing crime, and cost even more money long term. What’s the better alternative?” -M.G.

“No. It’s become increasingly difficult to even get benefits as it is. Single adults without kids must have a job or do community service to even receive SNAP now. Someone with no job that just wants to get free assistance won’t get anything anyway.” – C.M.

“Nope. If they start testing then all government (state and federal) employees should be tested as well.” -J.C.

Yes Voters

“I’m tested every time I start a new job and am subject to random testing. It’s a requirement for my paycheck, why should it be any different when it comes to using my taxes for people on welfare. I’m certainly not against welfare, and am a firm believer that it’s a good thing when used as it was intended.” – J.P.

“Yes cause odds are if the parents are on drugs they are trading food stamps for money to get drugs so children aren’t getting the food they need anyway and children should go to someone else that will feed and take care of them properly.” -C.R.

“I think yes! People are saying children are involved and will go without food, but so would the children of parents loses their job due to a failed drug test. People on drugs get way too many free passes and handouts yet not getting any real help offered to them, like rehab, counseling.” – S.J.

Unclear Voters

“There’s good and bad in it. We get tested to work so they should get tested to draw. At the same time what do we do with the people getting cut that become homeless? What about the children who were barely eating before? They should be tested, but we need a plan to negate the negatives before it can be considered.” – M.J.

“Hard question because the kids gotta eat it isn’t their fault. But who’s to say the parents use the welfare for food?” – K.J.

“If they get tested, they would have to test levels. Because even if they get prescribed the medicine they can still abuse it.” – K.J.

Welfare Drug Testing Laws by State

Alabama – 2014 passed a law that requires welfare recipients with a drug conviction in the last 5 years to submit to drug testing.

Arkansas – 2017 Arkansas passed SB 123 making their drug testing program permanent.

Florida – 2011 passed a law HB 353 requiring all applicants for TANF benefits to be tested. Florida courts struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Georgia – 2012 passed legislation requiring drug tests for all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Kansas – 2013, Kansas enacted legislation to require drug testing for applicants and recipients suspected of using controlled substances.

Maine – 2015 passed a law requiring welfare recipients that had a prior drug conviction to submit to drug testing.

Michigan – Governor Rick Snyder signed HB 4118 and SB 275 into law on December 24, 2014. The bills require the Department of Human Services to establish and administer a suspicion-based drug screening and testing program in at least three counties.

Missouri – 2011 passed HB 73 requiring the department to require a urine drug test for all applicants and recipients of TANF for whom they have reasonable cause to believe based on screening that they are engaged in illegal use.

Mississippi – 2014 Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 49 into law on March 24, 2014. The bill requires all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to complete a written questionnaire to determine the likelihood of a substance abuse problem. If the results indicate a likelihood the person has a substance abuse problem, the applicant must submit to a drug test.

North Carolina – 2013 passed HB 392 which included a provision to require drug testing of welfare applicants or recipients based on reasonable suspicion.

Oklahoma – 2012 passed HB 2388 requiring DHS to screen all adult applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to determine if they are engaged in illegal use of controlled substances.

Tennessee – 2012 approved a bill to require the department to develop a plan for substance abuse testing for all applicants.

Utah – 2012, passed HB 155 requiring individuals applying for cash assistance to complete a written questionnaire screening for illegal drug use. If there is reason to believe the person has a substance use disorder or is engaging in illegal drug activity, the applicant must take a drug test.

Wisconsin – 2015 budget bill (SB 21) included a provision to drug test individuals participating in the Wisconsin Works and the Transform Milwaukee Jobs program and work experience programs for non-custodial parents. The bill also included a provision to test applicants for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program which was challenged by the Federal government.

West Virginia – 2016 Governor Tomblin signed SB 6 on March 23, 2016, which creates a 3-year pilot program to screen welfare applicants for substance abuse issues. If the caseworker has reason to believe the applicant is abusing drugs, a drug test will be ordered.


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Requirements for Conducting Legal Random Drug Testing

Requirements for legal random drug testing

Random drug testing is an important part of maintaining an effective and safe workforce. Many large companies outsource drug testing because they believe the requirements are too costly. Let’s break down the requirements for conducting legal random drug testing for your business.

Identify Requirements for Legal Random Drug Testing

Most large corporations use the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 as a starting point for their random drug testing program. It is required that all businesses that seek federal contracts abide by the drug free workplace act and SAMHSA provides a comprehensive toolkit for meeting all the requirements.

If you have a large business and expect to apply for federal contracts anytime soon I suggest hiring a consultant and studying the SAMHSA provided information in detail.


Drug Free Workplace Notice
One of the requirements of the Drug Free Workplace act was that employers must display a sign like this in their business where all employees can see it.


For a random drug testing program to consider the law as much as possible it will need to be part of a larger drug free workplace policy that covers everyone working for your business. Your drug free workplace policy will be comprehensive and will outline all drug testing that your organization plans on conducting.

Your business may be subject to additional regulations and laws depending on your industry and the states you operate in, but the Drug Free Workplace Act is a good starting point. Some industries also have more strenuous requirements like companies that are subject to DOT regulations.

Which Drug Tests are Legal?

You can use any drug test you want for random testing as long as the staff are trained and certified in conducting and interpreting them. The FDA separates in vitro tests into 3 categories

  • High Complexity
  • Moderate complexity
  • CLIA Waived

To use high complexity or moderate complexity tests from a legal standpoint you have to meet some very strenuous requirements, so strenuous that it really isn’t feasible for a business that isn’t an actual laboratory with an executive director that is a PHD specializing in chemical tests.

Since the additional cost is minimal and it takes care of many legal issues, you will need to make sure you are using a CLIA waived multi drug test like our 12 Panel drug test cup. This also solves the problem of deciding what drugs to test employees for because all of the drugs that have a CLIA waiver in place are included.

When drug testing employees always follow best practices for employee drug testing especially when it comes to maintaining a chain of custody and verifying positive results with a confirmatory screening.

Basic Guidelines for a Legal Random Drug Testing Program

Written Drug Free Workplace Policy

The first thing you need to do is create an internal document outlining your drug free workplace policy. It is a good idea to consult an employment attorney when drawing up your procedures, penalties and policy.


Drug Free Workplace Policy Signature Page
Every employee should have a signature page from your drug free workplace policy on file. This is proof that the employee was aware of and agreed to your policy.


Employees should sign a copy and be given their own copy of your drug free workplace policy when they submit an application. This will deter heavy drug users and will make it clear to others that you take drug use seriously. You can use the Drug Free Workplace Act as a basis for your own policy.

Clearly Identify Penalties

Every employee should know what the penalties for violating your drug free workplace policy are and what to expect if they fail a drug test. Be as detailed and specific as possible in regards to penalties and be consistent with enforcement.

A company policy is far less questionable than the judgement of a manager. This is your opportunity to be as lenient or as strict as you’d like in regards to how you handle policy violations.

Outline Drug Testing Guidelines

Explain who will be tested, when they will be tested and be a detailed as possible.

For example, you will want to clearly identify that employees can be tested for pre-employment, post accident, and random drug testing at a minimum. If you include instances such as suspected drug use you will need to have your supervisors trained and certified to identify impairment.

The more specific you are in your outline the better your will be protected in case of a dispute. For instance if you say that 50% of the workforce will be randomly selected for testing every 12 months and then follow those guidelines an employee can’t accuse the company of discrimination as easily.

Provide Training

The more training you have for your employees involved in a drug testing program the better. There are certifications for everything from administering drug tests to identifying impairment.

At the very least employees involved in carrying out your drug free workplace policy should have in house training and semi annual retraining for their particular roles.

In larger companies a Medical Review Officer will be employed with specialized medical training in handling samples and following structural guidelines. In smaller companies an employee in HR will usually handle screening in addition to other duties.

Drug Testing

There are many benefits to drug testing employees, and it will be the center of your drug free workplace policy. Drug testing will help lower your insurance rates, improve workplace safety and reduce costs. Most business will employ 3 primary types of drug testing:

  • Pre employment drug tests
  • Post Injury drug tests
  • Random drug tests

You can legally send an employee for a drug test if you suspect they are high on the job, but you need to have trained persons make that judgement call and be prepared to back it up in court. It is actually very rare for someone that fails a drug test to fight it in court after the fact, but as a business owner you want to prepare for the worst.

Employee Education for Drug abuse

It is often considered a duty of an employer to help educate their staff about drug abuse and encourage them to abstain from illegal substances.

Provide education and training that reinforces healthy  behaviors and spreads awareness about the effects substance abuse can have on health and employment.

You can do this by bringing in a medical expert annually for continuing education, or by meeting with each employee individually.

Supervisor Training

The staff member that supervises your Drug Free Workplace policy is a very important cornerstone for the entire program.

Depending on the size of your business the supervisor may be the sole administrator of the Drug Free Workplace Program or they may supervise a staff of several different professionals.

Supervisors should be intimately familiar with every detail of the program and be able to thoroughly document everything in a fair, systematic and unbiased way. The supervisor is responsible for identifying possible legal issues and tracking state and federal laws that affect your policy.

Employee Assistance & Rehabilitation

No business wants to lose a good employee to drug abuse. Gainful employment is one of the biggest incentives for a drug user to stay clean, and studies have shown that employees that are in recovery may be even better than average employees; they miss fewer days and have a 21% lower turnover rate.

Part of a drug free workplace policy is offering employees a second chance when they violate the rules.

Always document violations clearly and have the employee and their supervisor sign off. If you have documentation to back up that your employee has repeatedly violated a company policy then there is very little room to misinterpret a company’s actions.

Additional Tips for Avoiding Legal Action

Protect Employee Privacy

Protecting employee privacy is one of the key requirements for legal drug random drug testing. Since drug testing is considered a medical test there is an expectation of employee privacy. Test results are confidential and only the appropriate personnel should have access to them.

You should never comment on an employee’s drug use as it pertains to your drug free workplace policy. Do not gossip with your family and do not discuss it with employees. Violating an employee’s privacy could potentially lead to significant legal hurdles so it’s better to adopt a zero tolerance policy and be safe rather than sorry.

Do Not Rush to Judgement

Enforcing a drug testing policy requires a professional and systematic approach. It is very easy to let emotions become involved when you believe an employee has endangered your business and co workers through reckless behavior, but you need to strictly stick to your policy to afford yourself the most protection.

In a worst case scenario one of your managers dislikes a subordinate and decides to drug test them. The manager gossips to others that the employee is a drug addict and it gets back to them. They end up passing the test, but now at the very least you have a difficult situation between two employees and at worse your employee has a case for slander and your company violating a policy they developed. It could also make future termination proceedings very difficult because there is now a record of your company seemingly targeting them for termination.

Be Consistent

A drug free workplace policy has no room for playing favorites or discriminating against employees you no longer like. Rules need to be enforced across the board and if you say you’re going to do 25 random drug tests per year you need to do exactly 25.

If you go 4 years without doing a random drug test and then one day drug test 5 employees and 1 is dirty, it could seem like you targeted that employee specifically.





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What Drugs to Test Employees For

drugs employers test for

As a business owner it can be hard to decide what drugs to test employees for. Different regions have different drug problems and considerations, but there may be a one size fits all solution. When deciding what drugs to test employees for you should consider these factors:

  • What drugs are popular in the area of operation?
  • Are any drugs popular in your industry?
  • Which drugs have the most potential to negatively affect your business?
  • Which drugs can be tested for legally, economically and effectively?
  • What tests are available that are accurate and cost effective?

Most Popular Drugs Among Employees

Most popular illegal drug used in the workplace is recreational Marijuana. Over 20% of respondents of the survey admitted to using recreational marijuana during work hours. The second most common class of drug used during work hours was opiate painkillers.

Overall drug use mirrors these findings, with 4.2 million Americans reporting marijuana use and 1.8 million admitting to using prescription pain relievers in a 2013 study conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Substances Used at Work
This graph from shows that besides alcohol marijuana is the most commonly abused drug on the job.


Over the last decade more people with full time employment have admitted to marijuana and prescription painkiller use than all other classes of drugs combined. The effects of most prescription painkillers are mild enough that employees can use them undetected.

Common Drug Tests Employers Use

The most common instant drug test used by employers in the US is the 12 Panel Drug Test Cup. There are currently only 13 drugs that have CLIA waivers available for rapid testing, so a 12 or 13 panel cup offers the most number of tests while staying in compliance for state and federal guidelines.

Many will use a Fentanyl strip (FYL) and ETG (alcohol) strip in addition to a CLIA waived 12 panel cup. These tests are for forensic use and any indication of a positive should be sent to a lab for confirmation. The fentanyl test is becoming more popular because it is commonly being used in fake pharmaceuticals and mixed with heroin to increase its potency.

Having a CLIA waived test is important because other tests will be considered high complexity and will have no legal standing whatsoever in the majority of workplaces.

CLIA Waived Drug Test Strips

  • Marijuana (THC)
  • Cocaine (COC)
  • Opiates (OPI)
  • Amphetamines (AMP)
  • Methamphetamines (MET)
  • Benzodiazepines (BZO)
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • Methadone (MTD)
  • Oxycodone (OXY)
  • Buprenorphine (BUP)
  • Barbiturates (BAR)
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Some organizations must adhere to recommendations published by certain branches of the federal government. In the 1990s the NIDA required testing for at least 5 types of drugs to meet the requirements to be a “Drug Free Workplace”. These drugs became known as the NIDA 5 and have since been considered the bare minimum for employer drug testing.

If an organization depends on government contracts or is contracted directly with the federal government you should consult the NIDA, SAMHSA, and Drug Free Workplace acts.

At the very minimum a company should test for the 5 illicit drugs in the NIDA 5. Since it is so cost effective, there isn’t a good reason to not upgrade to the 12 panel test cup and screen for more drugs.

NIDA 5 Drug Tests

  1. Marijuana (THC)
  2. Cocaine (COC)
  3. Opiates (OPI)
  4. Amphetamines (AMP)
  5. Phencyclidine (PCP)

In the years since the NIDA 5 was released pharmaceuticals and drugs such as methamphetamine have become much more popular while PCP has fallen out of use almost entirely. Most drug testing programs have implemented changes to reflect that.

Which Drugs Have the Biggest Effect on Business

As previously mentioned in 11 Reasons Why Employers Drug Test, the average drug user has 50% more absences than a regular employee. Employees with a prescription painkiller addiction miss 200% more often than a regular employee. When it comes to turnover 25% of people employed full time have had another employer in the previous year. 36% of average drug users have had another employer in the previous year, but that number climbs to 42% for people with a prescription painkiller addiction.

Over the course of employment opiate users cost a business more consistently, but users of drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine are prone to have major incidents that have tremendous immediate and long term effects on a business.

Which Drug Tests Are Effective

You will notice that alcohol is often listed as the most abused drug by full time employees. There are tests that can detect alcohol, but the detection period is approximately 12 hours. Since alcohol is legal an employee that had a drink the night before isn’t technically doing anything wrong. Alcohol is also easily detected by coworkers if an employee is drinking on the job without the use of a test.

Synthetic opiates do not consistently show up on Opiate assays so Oxycodone, methadone, buprenorphine and fentanyl have their own specific tests.

In regions where pharmaceutical abuse is high these tests are almost always included in an employer drug test, but in some areas the number of people using prescription drugs legally outweighs those using illegally and companies see these as a nuisance to continuously cross check. 

It is also much easier for an employee to obtain a prescription for narcotics in areas with lower rates of prescription drug abuse.

Legal Drug Use and Acceptable Use

Besides having a short detection period, alcohol is widely used legally by employees outside of work hours. It’s more culturally acceptable to drink alcohol than to abuse other illegal drugs.

Marijuana is gaining legal status in many states and is becoming more culturally acceptable in the US with every passing year. New York city recently passed a law that made it illegal to test for recreational marijuana use on a pre employment drug test.


NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
New York City’s public advocate Jumaane Williams helped the resolution to ban pre employment drug testing for THC pass the City Council. The ban went into effect in March 2020.


Responsible alcohol use outside of work hours is usually considered a private matter. As marijuana becomes legal in more jurisdictions companies will need to look at their specific laws and situation and determine how to best address drug testing for THC going forward. If your company’s roles require employees to be brand ambassadors 24/7 it might be important to have a drug and alcohol policy that extends to an employee’s personal time.

What is the Best Solution for Employer Drug Testing?

We believe the best solution is to use rapid urine screens for pre-employment and random drug testing and use confirmations for any employee that has a positive result. You can also ask employees that admit to drug use to sign a waiver to save the cost of a confirmation.

This will keep drug testing costs low (our 12 panel drug tests are $2.70 per cup shipped when bought in bulk) while also having a very efficient and accurate drug testing policy. With a CLIA waived test almost any employee can conduct the test. By following on site drug testing guidelines you can eliminate most adulteration and reduce the cost of keeping your business drug free.



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What if My Drug Test Results Come Back Positive?

drug test results come back positive

So you were given a drug test a recently and when the results came back your were positive for one or more drugs. You may have suspected they would, or in rare cases it’s a total surprise. What should you expect and what should you do when your drug test results come back positive?

Don’t Freak Out When Your Drug Test Results Come Back Positive

A positive drug test is not the end of the world. The first thing to do is settle your mind. You don’t need additional stress and worrying will have no effect on the outcome.

Consequences are hardly ever as severe as people think but people have done many things they regret immediately after receiving bad news. The worst thing you can do is continue using drugs.

What are the consequences of Failing a Drug Test?

Depending on what your drug test was for consequences can range from nothing to prison time. In the vast majority of cases people overestimate the consequences of failing a drug test, and in other cases they are extremely positive about the outcome.

Unless someone has firsthand experience or knows someone that has been through the exact process with very similar circumstances they will rarely have a totally accurate idea of the consequences of failing a drug test. Here are some likely scenarios by case.


If you fail your probation drug test it will most likely be sent to a lab for confirmation giving you several days to worry. The consequences of a failed drug test will be different depending on your original crime, your time on probation, the drugs you failed for and your probation officer’s own discretion.

In most cases someone that has done well for a while and has their first infraction will be referred to a drug counselor and may be asked to attend rehab after an assessment. For someone that has failed multiple tests however you could have your probation revoked. People that do go to jail for a failed probation drug test often get out sooner than expected.

Pre Employment Testing

If you fail a drug test when applying for a job 99% of the time you will not be hired and that will be the end of it. Many employers have a statute about how long a failed drug test will affect hiring, so you may be able to re apply in 6 months to 1 year.

Random Drug Testing At Work

Many employers do random drug testing to comply with federal guidelines and meet insurance requirements. For small businesses the result of a positive drug test will mostly be up to the discretion of the owner and your work history and importance will likely play a big part in how it turns out.

Larger corporations almost always have a drug treatment policy where employees that have a positive drug screen are given the opportunity to attend treatment and accept terms of a more strenuous testing program to continue their employment. A violation of this program will usually result in termination.

Post Accident Drug Test

Employers are required to do a post accident drug test of all involved parties when an on the job accident occurs that causes serious injury or death. This is probably one of the most serious drug tests. You and your company could face lawsuits and even jail time for negligence or manslaughter.

If you drive a vehicle or work around dangerous equipment, consider this before taking drugs even outside of work.

Medical Patient

Healthcare facilities drug test patients for many reasons. The most common is when prescribing narcotics. These tests are to inform the doctor about any drugs you may take or addictions you may have and depending on your treatment you may get a prescription anyway. In most cases during a healthcare screening you need to show positive for any drugs you are prescribed and negative for any other drugs. Any other result is a good reason for your Doctor to withhold a prescription or even discharge you from care.

What to Do If Your Drug Test Comes Back Positive

If your drug test comes back positive the first question you need to ask yourself is why you failed the test. If you used drugs accept that it’s your fault and admit guilt; probation officers and employers are more likely to help if you are honest and they will know you’re lying when the confirmation comes back.

If you have not used drugs you should request a confirmation. Make a list of all the medications you have taken in the last month and a list of any unusual foods you may have consumed. Educate yourself about false positives on a drug test and stay confident that it will be worked out at the lab.

If someone was injured you should retain legal counsel and not answer any questions unless instructed to by your lawyer. You should get a quantitative blood screen as soon as possible to document the levels of any drugs in your system. You may be able to use this as evidence in court if your impairment was truly not the cause of the accident.

Immediately quit taking drugs. In many cases you will face suspension or other consequences until you can pass a drug test.

If you have a drug problem seek help. The longer you use drugs the harder it is to quit and there are many benefits to living a drug free life.

The consequences for trying to tamper with a drug test are usually more severe in the legal system and healthcare, and identical to failing in an employment setting. Never attempt to adulterate a test because it will negate any opportunity for leniency or forgiveness.

Dealing With Positive Drug Tests

I cannot stress enough that failing a drug test is not the end of the world and in most cases the consequences are never as dire as people expect.

For organizations and individuals giving drug tests I would like to remind you that everyone deserves respect and just because someone fails a drug test does not make them a bad person. They are likely under a lot of stress and you can really help their state of mind by being understanding. Please do not use drug testing as a tool for personal revenge.

For anyone taking a drug test I’d like to remind you that the person in charge of your test is just doing their job and following procedure. They do not want to see you fail a drug test and it causes them a lot of stress knowing that you may lose your job or suffer other consequences as part of their job.



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11 Reasons Why Employers Drug Test

why do employers drug test

Why do employers drug test applicants? Even though the benefits are obvious to most, job seekers often ask us about the reasons drug testing has become ubiquitous. Here are 11 benefits employers and employees gain from drug testing.

Reasons Why Employers Drug Test

  1. Productivity
  2. Safety
  3. Insurance Purposes
  4. Reputation
  5. Encourage Drug Users to Seek Help
  6. Encourage Drug Users to Stay Clean
  7. Lower Costs
  8. Avoid Lawsuits
  9. Gather Evidence
  10. Improve Work Environment
  11. Avoid Drug Related Incidents


At the end of the day running a business is about making money. It boils down to taking raw materials, adding labor and creating a marketable product that people want. Anything a company can do to increase the amount of work that is completed in the same amount of time will increase profits.

According to the National Safety Council workers with a substance abuse disorder miss 50% more days than average workers, and workers with pain medication use disorder miss 300% more days.

Absenteeism by drug users
An older study showed a 59.3% increase in absences that became progressively worse as time went on.


In extreme cases opiate users will sleep on the job. Drug use makes employees inconsistent at best, and downright dangerous and counterproductive in some cases.

A classic study outlined in “Under The Influence? Drugs in the American Workforce.” found that identified drug users had a 64% higher rate of receiving disciplinary warnings and were 5 times as likely to receive poor performance evaluations from their supervisors.

Negative work performance of drug users
This graph from “An Evaluation of Pre Employment Drug Testing” published in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed applicants with a positive pre employment drug screen had significantly higher disciplinary infractions all around.

An employee that uses drugs will often use on the job. Their breaks are longer and they take longer to regain focus when returning. You also need to contend with the possibility of days when the employee has taken too much drugs and days when they are suffering withdrawal. Most recovering drug addicts admit that withdrawal made them useless at work. Employees that have a prescription for a narcotic drug avoid many of the ways drug use can affect production, but are still subject to negative impacts caused by the effects of the drug.


One of the primary reasons employers why drug test is because of worker safety. A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 77% of drug users were employed full or part time. Drug users are 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or a coworker in an on the job accident. They’re 5 times more likely to file a workers compensation claim.

Opioids can impair thinking and reaction time. Marijuana has been proven to affect reaction time and short term memory. Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine affect self awareness and risk analysis. All drugs affect an individual’s capacity for judgement.

Rates of Substance Abuse by industry
A 2017 study suggested substance abuse costs employers $100 billion annually. These figures show rates of substance abuse across industries.


Insurance purposes

Some employers drug test because they have to. Many insurance companies will not even sell insurance to an organization that doesn’t have an employee drug use policy in place. Some types of insurance offer a discount for organizations that have a strict and extensive policy regarding employee drug use.

Anyone company that receives a federal grant or is contracted by the federal government is required to maintain a drug free workplace which is outlined in the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. Several states offer a discount on workers compensation premiums to companies that maintain the same guidelines. These States are:

State Discounts for A Drug-Free Work Place 

As of October 2018, 13 states had laws that provide a discount on workers compensation insurance to employers that implement a drug-free workplace.

    • Alabama codes §25-5-330 – §25-5-340 provides a five percent discount to employers that establish a drug-free workplace.
    • Arkansas code §11-14-101-112, employers with drug-free workplace programs may qualify for a five percent discount on workers’ compensation premiums.
    • Florida State code §440.102 provides a five percent reduction in premiums to employers that implement and maintain an insurer-certified drug-free workplace program in accordance with the standards set forth in the Act.
    • Georgia §33-9-40.2 & §34-9-412 provides a 7.5 percent discount on workers compensation premiums to employers that have implemented a drug-free workplace program that is certified by the state Board of Workers’ Compensation. Employers must submit their certificate to their insurer annually.
    • Idaho Sections 72-1701 through 72-1716 of the Idaho code provide that public employers who conduct drug and alcohol testing of all current and prospective employees shall qualify for and may be granted an employer Workers’ Compensation premium reduction.
    • Kentucky State regulations 803 KAR 25.280 allow employers that implement a drug-free workplace program a 5% reduction of their insurance premium.
    • Mississippi Under Mississippi Code, Sections 71-3-201 through 71-3-225, employers that establish a drug-free workplace program may submit an application to their insurer for a 5 percent reduction in their workers’ compensation premium.
    • Ohio Program established via O.A.C. 4123-17-58. Employers may enroll in the Drug-Free Safety Program offered by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Employers that fulfill the requirements may receive a discount of four to seven percent on their workers compensation premium.
    • New York Part 60 of Sect. 134 of WC created the Workplace Safety and Loss Prevention Incentive Program. Employers with an experience modifier of less than 1.30 and an annual WC premium of at least $5,000 are eligible for a voluntary program. They may receive a separate credit (typically 2%) for each of the following: safety, return-to-work, and drug and alcohol prevention.
    • South Carolina §38-73-500 provides 5 percent discount on workers compensation premiums to employers that voluntarily establish a drug-free workplace program.
    • Tennessee State codes §50-9-101 to §50-9-114 provide a 5 percent discount on premiums if employers establish a drug-free workplace program as outlined in the law.
    • Virginia §65.2-813.2 provides a 5 percent premium discount for employers who institute a drug-free workplace program. The program must satisfy requirements established by the insurer.
    • Wyoming Under §27-14-201, employers that implement a drug-testing program may qualify for a base rate discount up to 10%. This program is offered by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.



With the increased adoption of social media customers are quicker than ever to emotionally lash out at a company in an online review for even the smallest offense. People getting fired for a single tweet has become an everyday occurrence.

Every employee is a reflection of the business they work for. When an employee shows themselves to be insensitive or unaware the public accuses their employer of the same charge.

The same associations apply to employees on drugs. Even employees that hide their drug use very well on the job may be more open in their private lives. A single employee that presents a persona of drug use can make everyone that meets them or views their social media associate that persona with their employer.

Illegal drug use doesn’t need a whistleblower. It was the Santa Cruz county coroner that shed light on the culture of drug use in Silicon Valley when Google executive Timothy Hayes died from a heroin overdose in 2014. As reporters probed colleagues and employees at other tech companies they found that hard drug use (including methamphetamine and heroin) was above average and drug testing was almost non-existent in Silicon Valley.

It is more critical than ever for businesses to brand themselves as a positive contributor to their community. In most cases any association with drug use suggests negative connotations that are easily attached to a brand, but very difficult to address.

It’s important to stay compassionate and give employees a chance to address their problems. A great example of a drug addict cleaning up their act and enjoying positive PR is Robert Downey Jr. After a few episodes of bad press Robert went into rehab, came our clean and went on to star in one of the most profitable movie franchises ever. A community focused company makes encouraging positive behavior and compassion part of their mission.

Robert Downey Jr
Robert Downey Jr. has enjoyed enormous popularity and success after recovering from bad PR associated with drug use.

Encourage Drug Users to Seek Help

Even though substance abuse can be a big problem for employers, employees that are in recovery miss fewer days than average workers and have a 21% lower turnover rate. Gainful employment at a company that drug tests is one of the biggest incentives for drug users to get clean.

Since the incentive to get clean is tied so closely to employment, this is an opportunity for businesses to give back to the communities they serve. Identifying drug use through testing doesn’t have to be all about the benefits for the business. Even though recovery is hard and it takes most addicts several attempts and a strong will to succeed, instigating a successful recovery is a very rewarding part of drug-free-workplace policy.

Most reputable companies offer employees that fail a drug test the opportunity to attend an in-patient program. Most employer insurance plans do pay for in patient treatment, and since the Affordable Care Act all drug treatment programs are supposed to be covered by insurance.

Belden Inc. was having such a hard time dealing with applicants and employees struggling with opiate abuse that they started a program that paid for employees drug treatment.

Encourage Drug Users to Stay Clean

As I mentioned before the promise of secure gainful employment is one of the biggest incentives for drug users to get clean. It’s also the biggest incentive for drug users to stay clean.

Most of the recovered addicts we have met through this business used getting a job as their first step forward in recovery. This led to many starting families, adopting hobbies and making new friends. At some point the idea of losing your income is worse than avoiding drug use and many addicts fall into a normal routine.

Companies associated with addiction treatment and rehabilitation are especially known for having great success hiring recovering addicts. Since recovering addicts miss less work and are more likely to stay loyal to a company, this could be as self serving a reason as it is an altruistic one.

Joe Arndt VP of Delta Lighting
Joe Arndt, the Vice President of Delta Lighting recruits employees that are in recovery. He has found that people in active recovery tend to be better employees.


Joe Arndt, Vice President of Delta Lighting, has been recruiting recovering addicts for several years. When asked why he said, “They’re tremendously loyal to us, and they just work harder because they realize that they don’t necessarily have a lot of other options which is kind of sad,”.

“They’re tremendously loyal to us, and they just work harder because they realize that they don’t necessarily have a lot of other options which is kind of sad,”

-Joe Arndt, VP of Delta Lighting on hiring addicts in recovery

Despite the fact that many studies show recovering addicts make better employees and several initiatives developed to help those in recovery find a job, the unemployment rate of drug addicts in recovery is approximately twice as high as the national unemployment rate.

Lower Costs

Healthcare costs for substance abuse treatment programs were about $35 billion in 2015. Another $85 billion is spent treating illness, injuries and infections related to substance abuse. Employers that offer health insurance will almost definitely pay higher premiums even if their employees do not report substance abuse.

The cost of retraining the least skilled employee is often tens of thousands of dollars. With drug users having more absences, getting in more accidents and being less productive in general companies often find themselves in an endless cycle of replacing people if they cannot weed out applicants that use drugs during the hiring process.

When you start to add up productivity losses, higher workers comp and insurance premiums, employee absences, higher healthcare costs and the cost of on site incidents, it’s hard to believe an employer can afford not to drug test their employees.

Avoid Lawsuits.

A positive drug test can turn a common workplace accident into costly negligence lawsuit. Negligent hiring and retention lawsuits are becoming more common and judges are more frequently ruling against employers. Plaintiffs prefer to file against a corporation or small business that has deeper pockets and lawyers are more likely to present the weaker case with the hopes of getting a bigger settlement.

As previously mentioned, drug users are 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or others and 5 times more likely to file a workers compensation claim. OSHA has deemed post injury drug testing to be retaliatory in nature and it can expose a company to worker’s compensation retaliation tort claims, so it is important to identify and address the possibility before it becomes a reality.

A few examples of lawsuits that found the company responsible for the drug or alcohol use of their employees:

  • Chesterman v. Barmon: The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that an employer’s liability for the criminal actions of an employee who was taking mescaline and amphetamines was a question for the jury to decide.
  • Otis Engineering Corp. v. Clark: A drunk machine operator was sent home by his employer. On the way home he caused an automobile accident killing himself and two occupants of another car. The Texas Supreme Court held the employer liable.
  • Brockett v. Kitchen Boyd Motor Co.: An employee left an office Christmas party after having too much to drink. The employee caused an automobile accident and the employer was held liable for injuries suffered by third parties.

Gather Evidence

The goal of post accident drug testing is to find the truth and either exonerate or convict the person involved in the accident. Regardless of the circumstances a positive drug test can affect a company’s liability to an employee that is injured on the job.

A positive drug screen is also grounds for termination in most states. Most companies will try and avoid having a claim on their unemployment insurance if possible and a positive drug screen is almost iron clad.

It’s important to stay educated on drug tests and their admissibility in court if you plan on using results for more than coercing an employee to resign on their own. It’s also important to understand the legal guidance for drug testing in the workplace.

For instance OSHA recently issued a memorandum on workplace safety incentives and post accident drug testing. Their guidance is primarily meant to keep employee drug testing consistent and avoid any type of unfair targeting. For post accident drug testing

“Post-incident drug testing should be conducted consistently on any employee whose conduct may have contributed to the accident, and not merely the employee who was injured in an accident.”

So during an investigation of a fork-lift driver hitting another employee both employees should be drug tested and not just the driver.

Improve Work Environment

Theft, crime and violence all increase with levels of employee drug use. Company morale drops quickly when a co worker that has a substance abuse problem isn’t doing as much work, isn’t coming in on time and isn’t being disciplined for it.

Drug use is often a major aspect of a user’s life. Thoughts of getting drugs and using drugs are frequently on their mind even at times when they should be focused on their work.

It’s not fair to other employees that drug addicted co workers use up more of a company’s resources. It’s also not fair that an employee would need to worry about her personal belongings being stolen at work because a co-worker is feeding their drug habit.

It’s important to consider company culture when drafting drug testing policies. Some companies have experienced pushback and negative reactions when instituting company wide drug testing policies.

Some people see it as an invasion of their privacy. Studies have shown that when jobs are more dangerous employees are more open and even supportive of strict drug testing policies. Whether drug testing aligns with employees’ political stance, everyone wants a safer work environment, higher morale and peace of mind not having to worry about thievery and other drug related property crimes at work.

Avoid Extreme Issues That Cause Problems on All Levels

Some incidents that could have been entirely avoided by drug testing have such a high cost that they’re hard to classify in this list. For instance in 2014 a McDonald’s employee was arrested for selling heroin in Happy Meals. The employee would include a bag of heroin in the happy meal box if a customer said “I’d like to order a toy” when placing their order. Besides the lost revenue from an employee running an illegal drug dealing operation out the restaurant instead of working, besides the obvious safety issues associated with putting hard drugs in a meal designed for children, you cannot create a fictional headline more damming from a public relations perspective.

Even though a drug test may not have identified the criminal, it would have likely uncovered widespread drug use among the staff.  Other employees had to have been aware of the scheme and more than likely were given drugs to ignore it.

In another episode a customer is suing McDonalds after he ingested a soft drink spiked with Buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is widely prescribed as a maintenance drug. A post accident drug test of the staff would have likely found the culprit.

The recent Netflix documentary “How to Fix a Drug Scandal” tells the story of Sonja Farak, a lab chemist that was found to be stealing drugs and getting high at work. In this case her actions led to 24,000 cases being overturned by the state of Massachusetts. The total costs and repercussions associated with this example cannot be measured. It could have all been avoided with a $2.50 12 panel drug test.



It’s even more astonishing that the state of Massachusetts had just dealt with a similar issue. Annie Dookhan had faked test results and adulterated others in a bid to win over her superiors. The state’s entire policy should have been revised and the most obvious tactic, random drug testing employees, should have been added.

So why do employers drug test?

Considering all the disadvantages and damages that are likely to be caused by employee drug use and considering the obstacles involved with reacting to a drug related problem in the workplace it should be clear why employers drug test their employees. Any business that does not currently have policies addressing employee drug use should start planning the implementation of pre-employment and random drug testing immediately. We are happy to help readers with their plans and answer questions about our products and the industry. Feel free to contact us for additional information.



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Employee Drug Testing Guide

Use our employee drug testing guide to help inform your policies and procedures when testing new hires and completing random drug testing in house.


  1. Donor provides urine specimen in the cup and screws the cap on.
  2. Operator checks the cap for tightness, starts timer
  3. Remove peel off label
  4. Check temperature strip on back. A green color will appear to indicate the temperature, proper range is 90°-100°F
  5. At 5 minutes read the results. Presence or absence of drugs is indicated by the colored bands in the results area.
12 panel drug test results lines
The 3 results of a 12 panel drug test: negative, positive and invalid.


Tips for Successful Employee Drug Testing

Set Standard Drug Testing Procedures

When starting an employee drug testing program you need to begin with a consistent operating procedure that is detailed in a manual. Outline whether drug testing will be completed on a random basis or whether the company will only drug test employees after accidents and when they’re suspected of being intoxicated on the job.

During the hiring process management or human resources should have every new employee sign a Drug Testing Compliance form that clearly outlines the rights and responsibilities of every employee as it pertains to the company drug testing policy.  This will help in the unlikely event a terminated employee engages in legal action.

Always Observe Urine Drug Screens
When your patient or employee knows they are going to fail a drug test they will try anything to get around it. If you aren’t observing a drug screen then you can never definitively say that your subject didn’t substitute a clean sample for their own urine. One study found that when staff at an outpatient rehab started witnessing drug screens positive results almost doubled from 25% to 42%.

Most facilities that do frequent point of care drug screening will have a bathroom that is specifically designed for observing drug screens. Toilet water will be dyed blue, doors will be removed from stalls, sink access will be restricted, and a mirror will be placed for an observer to confirm that the sample did indeed come from the patient and not a small bottle concealed in their underwear.

Always Send Positive Drug Screen Samples to a Lab
Point of care drug screening is meant to lower the cost of a company drug testing program, but was never intended to replace confirmation from a licensed laboratory.

A drug testing cup can only indicate that a subject has levels of a certain metabolite in their urine that is above a designated cutoff. It doesn’t give any indication of the amount of that metabolite, the time frame when drug use likely occurred, the amount of drugs used or even the source of the metabolite.

A positive drug screen in your office just means that subject has likely used drugs in the past few days and their sample should be sent to a lab for confirmation. Besides the fact that a point of care test only indicates quantities of a metabolite above or below a designated cutoff, the possibilities of a false positive or faulty test means that you run the liability of making a bad decision based on evidence that doesn’t meet a burden of proof.

Maintain a Secure Chain of Custody

From the time you collect the sample from an employee you are responsible for making sure that the sample is not adulterated or otherwise tampered with until a laboratory can confirm the results.

Take the employee to a designated waiting area where you can set the collection cup and wait for the test strips to indicate whether a sample is positive or negative. It is important to have the employee wait with you so they can confirm that you have not tampered with their sample.

If the sample comes back positive you will need to seal it, package it and fill out paperwork to send it to a lab. Until the sample is properly packaged you should not let it out of your sight, and do not leave the package unattended until you pass custody on to the shipping agency.

It’s very unlikely that an employee that had a legitimate positive drug screen will pursue legal action, but you should treat every case as if you plan on being deposed in court. An employee that is the victim of a false positive will appreciate your diligence in maintaining strict control of their specimen so their innocence can be proven by the lab.

Store Unused Drug Tests in a Cool Controlled Environment

Test strips depend on chemicals present in the strips to react to metabolites of the target substance.

If you remember your science class in high school, every experiment called for a high level of control of different variables so the only variable being tested was directly related to the hypothesis you were trying to prove. In drug testing the uncontrolled variable is the amount of drugs each subject has consumed recently; all other variables need to be tightly controlled.

Extremely high or low temperatures can cause the chemicals in the test strips to alter their molecular structure which will lead to a different reaction to the target metabolites.

We take special precautions to make sure that our tests are stored at 70 degrees Fahrenheit in our facilities and choose the quickest shipping methods to limit exposure to uncontrolled temperatures during transport. Even in a controlled environment be careful not to store tests in direct sunlight which can raise the temperature of the tests even though the room is controlled.

Detect Dilution of Urine Samples

One of the most common techniques employees and patients use to alter drug screen results is diluting their urine in their own body by drinking excessive amounts of water or tea prior to testing. This can cut detection times down tremendously.

Doctors have long recommended that adults drink 4-8 glasses of water everyday; a healthy adult male should have urine that is colored like light lemon juice – a slight yellow tint. If a subject has urine that is completely clear it is acceptable to ask that they give another sample in 2-4 hours while not consuming more liquids.


urine color drug test chart
This chart shows how shades of urine relate to dehydration. When analyzing drug test samples, some color is preferable because urine that is completely clear cannot be distinguished from water without further testing.


Instruct any subject that consistently provides diluted samples that further dilution will result in a failed screen, or use an alternate sample (blood, saliva or hair follicle) at the employee’s expense.