What are employers doing about America’s drug problem?

Hundreds of thousands of employers - small and large - are now adopting and implementing one or more of the following: company-wide anti-drug abuse policies; comprehensive drug-abuse education and drug awareness programs; drug testing programs; and employee assistance (EAP) and rehabilitation programs. More than fifty-five (>55) million drug tests were performed in the U.S. last year.

How long will drugs stay in someone's system?

In very large part, it will vary depending on a person's physiological makeup (i.e. height, weight, age, current state of health). Other considerations include the person's "frequency" in which they use an illegal substance (i.e. once per day vs. three to five times per day) or the "quantity" of their use prior to testing. However, for most people, detectable levels of the following drugs stay in the body for these periods of time:

  • Marijuana, 2-5 days (the daily, heavy user can sometimes be detected up to 30+ days)
  • Cocaine, 1-2 days
  • Amphetamines, 1-2 days
  • Opiates, 1-3 days
  • Phencyclidine (PCP), 1-8days
  • Alcohol, less than 24 hours

For chronic users, drugs (other than alcohol) can be retained in the system much longer after their last use – up to 60 days in extreme situations.

What specimens are commonly used for drug testing?

A urine analysis is the most common specimen collected and used for drug testing. At Alabama MedScreen, in addition to urine analysis, we also offer drug testing through blood analysis, oral fluids analysis, and hair specimen analysis.

Is drug testing accurate?

Yes. The typical procedure for a urine analysis is a two-step process in which a urine sample is divided in half and tested twice. If the result of the initial test is "negative" the lab will report the test as "negative" and no additional testing will be performed on that specimen. However, if the result of the first test is “positive”, a second test is conducted on the sample using a different testing process that serves to "confirm" whether or not the first analysis was accurate.

Medical Review Officer (MRO) Verified Testing

In the event of a “positive” test result, an MRO will speak directly with the employee involved. The MRO gives the employee a chance to prove (e.g., by presenting a prescription) that the drugs found in their system were legitimately prescribed. In such cases where proof is presented, the employee (although found "positive" by the lab test) will - instead - be officially (and correctly) reported to their employer by the MRO as "negative".

But can’t you “beat” a drug test?

The opportunity for “beating a drug test” is limited by the integrity of the collection and testing process, and at any rate is detectable in most cases at the laboratory. The increasing popularity of “on-site” specimen collection has also greatly contributed to the reduction of specimen adulteration or substitution by donors attempting to cheat the system.

In Alabama, employers have the right to establish and implement a written company drug testing/drug prevention policy that requires its employees to be drug free and to undergo drug testing at the employer’s discretion. As long as there is an established company policy in place, drug testing by an employer is completely legal.

Is it any business of an employer’s what an employee does in the privacy of his or her own home?

Employee drug testing is always done while the employee is "on the job", about to start work, or immediately after their shift. As a result, it is the employer’s business to know when drug abuse OFF the job will affect performance or safety ON the job. Drug use that can adversely affect job attendance or performance by an employee can and should be the concern of an employer.

Aren’t there important individual rights at stake?

Yes. Employers should make every reasonable effort to minimize the intrusiveness of their drug abuse prevention programs for their workers. Employees have the rights to privacy, confidentiality, accuracy in testing (if the company tests for drugs), and a written drug testing policy that is fairly and consistently enforced.

In order to guarantee these rights, employers should take the following steps:

  • Develop a written drug testing policy for the employees that is well thought-out and communicated
  • Even-handed enforcement per that policy
  • Preservation of an employee’s privacy—making sure that only those with a “need to know” will know about a violation of the company’s written policy

In testing programs, use of confirmation tests, the maintaining of chain-of-custody, use of accredited laboratories and a certified MRO, and, fair application to the work force at large.

What about employee alcohol abuse?

Alcohol remains the number one abused drug in America. As a result, most employers include alcohol as a prohibited drug in their company drug policy. Again, if it is in the company policy, it is legal to be tested for alcohol use at the employer’s discretion.