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Third-party drug-test providers continue to grow nationwide

October 23, 2012
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-In-Chief
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According to laboratory testing giant LabCare, the market for clinical, anatomic, and genetic testing is $55 billion in the US and Canada alone.1 Within that market, the revenue associated with drugs-of-abuse testing is set to jump from about $2.0 billion today to $2.7 billion by 2015—an increase of 26 percent—according to a recent TriMark Publications study.2

The demand for drug and alcohol testing program management enjoys a 20 percent annual growth rate, says the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA).3 It, along with groups like the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association (SAPAA), offers legal, technical, and training assistance to the 65 percent of US businesses that require drugs-of-abuse testing. Such testing began nearly 25 years ago when Congress passed the Drug Free Workplaces Act—a response to the recognition that substantial numbers of working Americans were abusing alcohol and substances.

At the time, when employers sought help with new workplace drug testing concerns, they had to develop it in-house in their HR departments or turn to local businesses and consultancies that emerged to fill the new role of Third Party Administrators (TPAs). TPAs would, for a fee, manage drug-test programs—everything from planning on-site sample collections to administering random-test selections, to arranging sample processing with accredited test laboratories, tracking results, and helping to keep their employer customers out of court.

A growing role in the workplace

Years later, the third-party test management business continues to evolve. Employer needs have grown beyond drugs-of-abuse testing to background checks and wellness-management programs. Mobile sample collection capabilities are essential to loss of work time. Many employers also seek assistance and referrals to treatment for employees who test positive for substances. 

To meet the growing demand for localized test management expertise, a number of organizations now franchise these capabilities to local entrepreneurs. Some franchises are based on a mobile-only model, while others combine both office and mobile capabilities. Among the latter group of franchisors is ARCpoint Labs, 14-year-old laboratory testing firm from Greenville, SC. ARCpoint began selling franchisesin 2005 and has since seen its local franchise owners launch businesses at 58 locations.

 “We fit the bill for a lot of small to medium size companies, as well as individuals,” says Byron Berry, ARCpoint Labs' VP of national sales and marketing. He notes that ARCpoint Labs’ core services are built around drug screens to meet federal DOT standards, but have since grown into a wider range of drug, alcohol, DNA, wellness, and other tests, plus other compliance and employment-related services.

Urine tests remain typical for workplace drug screens, he says. In many states--depending on state laws--technicians may employ a dip or "rapid" test using one of several, prepackaged test panels or a custom panel developed with input from the employer.  The most popular screen is a five-panel urine rapid test for common drugs of abuse, followed by a ten or 12-panel that adds often-abused prescription medications, including opiates and benzodiazepines, for example.

“When we get a non-negative test,” Berry says that, per prior arrangements with the employer organization, the donor’s urine sample is forwarded for confirmation testing. These tests, as well as tests on blood draws, are conducted by nationally-recognized lab-test partners that include Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp, and Alere Toxicology.

Employers don’t haveto‘go there’

HR professionals who use third party testing organizations saythat working with them enables an organization’s managers and employees to maintain a more professional, “arms-length” relationship on the job. One, the HR manager at an Akron, Ohio area auto-parts distributor who manages a “100 percent” annual employee testing program, explained his feelings toBehavioral Healthcare.

“They’re ‘the heavy’ if there is a finding, and I don’t have to ‘go there’ in terms of talking about or getting involved in the intricacies of the [testing] process,” he explained, noting, “ It’s a lot easier to maintain a professional relationship with people you know and work with when you don’t have to address personal things like that.”

Jeff Graham, the owner and manager of the ARCpoint Labs office in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, demonstrated some of the more common drug screening processes and tools, as well as the details of the sample custody process.   

“You take this,” he said, pointing to a sample collection cup, “go in there [a nearby restroom], produce the sample and bring it back to me [the technician].  The first thing that happens is you witness that this is your sample. Then, I am going to decant a portion to a smaller container, identify that container as yours, and let you witness that with your initials.” In the last step, also witnessed by the donor, Graham picks up a handheld sensor and takes the temperature of the sample.  “If that sample isn’t within the specified range,” he explains, “there’s the potential for adulteration. It’s no good.”  

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