Employee drug use is on the rise according to experts. However, Marc Turner, CEO, Greenhouse Treatment Center, says the real issue is a greater tolerance of illicit drug use.
For example, traces of drugs—from marijuana to methamphetamine to prescription opiates—were found in 3.9% of the 9.1 million urine tests conducted by Quest Diagnostics in 2014, up from 3.7% in 2013.
“With marijuana being the drug cited as having the largest uptick, some people may believe that it won’t make a difference in employment decisions,” he says. “And when we look at prescription drugs, there’s a greater tolerance to use other people’s prescriptions and an overall uptick in the ‘that’s okay’ attitude.”
Turner says whether employees are being tested as a condition of employment, for random testing, or for cause, one of the main goals is identification of those who need treatment. “This testing leads to more referrals for treatment, and that’s a positive because we know it works,” he says. “It’s not a cure-all, but treatment can certainly assist people in transforming their lives and not letting alcohol and other drugs run them into the ground.”
Within the context of treatment, the American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends randomized testing as the model for providers.
“From a treatment perspective, yes, random testing—whether it’s inpatient or outpatient—is the model so people don’t know when they’re going to be tested,” Turner says. But for an employer, the model could be different. Quest Diagnostics found that for workers who knew they were going to undergo regular testing, 1.7 percent of urine drug tests came back positive.
“Not knowing when it’s going to happen provides that unpredictability, which provides a balance to assist people,” he says. “If you knew on Friday night that your next drug test was a few days away, the weekend would have a very different outlook for you potentially.”
Turner says that while testing strategies are all over the map, there’s not any one organization that is doing it just right. He adds that it’s important for organizations to design a plan and stick to it.
“You have to look at what your goals are and develop an appropriate plan that focuses on them,” he says. “Drug testing is not the answer to everything—it’s just one component in providing people with some structure and accountability.”
Turner also says it’s also important for employers to educate employees on the importance of treatment, the difficulties that continued drug use has on productivity as well as increased health costs. He adds that people are often in denial about the extent of their problem and that drug testing often forces them to seek assessment.
“Someone’s recreational use may be at a level that’s having an impact on their life that they might not be aware of,” he says.