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Drug use is on the rise in the United States. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) identified that the number of past-year illicit drug users ages 26 and older over the last few years: 14.6% of the population in 2015; 15% of the population in 2016; 16.1% of the population in 2017; and 16.7% of the population in 2018.1
The report is ongoing, but we can assume that the numbers will continue to rise when SAMHSA releases the 2019 report. To protect themselves from the costs of employing the growing number of regular drug users, many employers use workplace drug testing. In fact, many workplaces in the United States require pre-employment drug testing of applicant (57%)s, but much fewer require random drug testing of employees (47%).2 That means that a majority of workplaces only require applicants to pass one drug test over the entire course of their employment. Additionally, that single drug test is announced in advance, allowing drug using applicants ample time to stop using to pass the test and start using as soon as they are onboard. While pre-employment drug testing is an effective tool in keeping workplaces drug-free, it is only one tool. Employers who fail to take advantage of unannounced, random drug tests miss the opportunity to deter drug use by employees and maintain a safer, more productive workplace.
Pre-employment and Random Drug Testing – Detection Rates
Drug test results from nation-wide laboratories reveal that random drug testing has a higher detection rate than pre-employment. In fact, while pre-employment has a positivity rate of about 4.7 percent, random drug testing has a positivity rate of 5.7 percent.3 . These numbers equate to about four or five applicants out of 100 screened out for drug use as part of the pre-screening process, but five or six employees out of 100 who are screened out for drug use after being hired. This 1 percent difference in positivity rates between pre-employment and random drug testing indicates to employers that drug abusers make it through pre-employment screening and into their workplaces A 2007 study found that random alcohol testing of truck drivers was correlated with a 14.5 percent reduction in alcohol related accidents and incidents. 4 Drawing conclusions from this and a number of studies performed around the same time, experts concluded that random drug and alcohol testing generally reduces the risk of workplace injuries, while a peer-based substance abuse prevention program coupled with drug or alcohol testing would reduce drug-related injuries in the workplace by approximately one-third and alcohol-related injuries by approximately one-sixth.5
While applicants have notice of pre-employment tests, potentially deterring drug abusers from applying, providing ample time for an applicant to get clean in order to pass the test, or allowing the application time to purchase a product in an attempt to adulterate the test, random testing is exactly that – random. Drug abusing employees subject to random testing do not have advance notice of testing, meaning that the employer is more likely to identify a drug abusing employee that was able to pass their pre-employment screen.
Pre-employment drug testing is certainly an effective assessment tool, but random, unannounced drug testing provides employers with a valuable tool to continue to deter drug use and to detect employees who were able to pass the pre-employment test. Random drug testing coupled with pre-employment testing creates an even stronger deterrent and an even safer workplace than one or the other on its own. Pre-employment testing provides the initial screen, deterring many drug users from applying to begin with, and random testing furthers the goals of a drug-free workplace program, providing further incentives for employees to continue abstaining from illegal substances, helping employers provide a safe workplace for their employees and the general public as employees. Impaired employees, particularly those in safety-sensitive positions, pose hazards to themselves and those around them, as impairing substances can slow thinking and reaction time, potentially leading to workplace accidents during tasks that require attention to detail and quick reaction times.6
Although random drug testing has a proven history of effectiveness, some states place restrictions on who can be subjected to random testing or may even outright prohibit it.7 If random testing is restricted in your state(s) of operation, it is most likely restricted to either testing of only safety-sensitive employees or only those employees whose collective bargaining agreements permit the practice. Random testing has many proven benefits, including, but not limited to providing additional security and incentive for employees to not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, improved productivity and morale, motivation for employees to change habits if addicted to drugs or alcohol, reduced tardiness and absenteeism, and avoiding potential accidents and incidents caused by impaired employees, which, in addition to damages, could include workers’ compensation payments for injured employees.8
Pre-employment and Random Drug Testing – Deterrence Rate
Pre-employment drug testing is indeed an effective deterrent, but random testing proves to be an even greater one. The sum of the parts often proves to be greater than the whole. That is the case with drug testing. Random drug testing coupled with pre-employment testing creates an even stronger deterrent and an even safer workplace than one or the other on its own.
Random drug testing is one of the smartest investments a company can make, especially when drug abuse is increasing so rapidly and current drug users are finding their way into the workplace. The return on investment for a random drug testing program is often easy to show with a single positive drug test, and that investment will drop straight to a much better-looking bottom line.