Drug Testing Essay, Research Paper
Drug testing is a laboratory procedure that looks for evidence of drug consumption by analyzing urine, blood, and hair samples. If tested, you must provide a sample in front of an observer to make sure that it is not tampered with. Samples are then sent to a laboratory for analysis, after which the employer is notified of the results (Wodell 1).
Exactly who should be subject to the new trend of mandatory drug tests, is the big question being raised among businesses, schools, athletes and federal government employees. Businesses feel that random drug testing of their employees will create higher productivity, save on health care costs, improve employee turnover, prevent less accidents, and improve job satisfaction. Schools are beginning to test their students in more and more regions. This time it is not just athletes, but anybody involved in any after-school activities will be tested as well. Schools feel that testing their students will give students an excuse to say no to drugs. It has also generated much controversy among employees of the federal government because employees feel that it is a violation of their right to privacy.
Today 81% of large U.S. corporations engage in some type of employee drug screening, and 98% of Fortune 200 companies have drug-testing policies. On the other hand, employees are more aware of their rights. With the heightened awareness of privacy issues in the U.S, instituting a drug-testing policy can leave a company on shaky legal ground if they are not careful. Testing agencies claim that this growing trend is working to cut back on drug and alcohol abuse in the work force. According to one facility in 1987, 18.1% of those tested showed positive drug use compared to 1997, where only 5% out of five million tests came back positive. As far as the drugs of choice in these tests are 60% are for marijuana, 16% for cocaine, and opiates make up approximately 9 to 10% of the positive test results (Flynn 107).
On the contrary, many employees are not very happy about having to take drug tests and they are voicing their opinions. A recent study conducted by the LeMoyne College Institute of Industrial Relations suggests that, mandatory drug testing actually hurts workplace work place productivity and may promote the abuse of cocaine, booze and other drugs. The study also implied that these programs reduce employee productivity by as much as 33%, because it makes workers feel that they are not trusted by their employers. Lastly, the study points out that because drug tests tend to zoom in on marijuana (which only stays in the system for six weeks) some are turning to cocaine, and psychedelic mushrooms which leave little residue in the body (Workplace 1).
Companies putting these testing policies in place must also consider the legal repercussions involved if they are not careful. Many firms have found themselves in violation of our Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure, better known as a violation of privacy. Opponents claim that the tests are too costly, ineffective, and prone to abuse. Random testing is a risk in many states, but if the employee is in a position in which drug use could result in the death of an employee or the death of others, random testing is usually OK. Another way employers are evaluating the need for a test is by “reasonable suspicion” which could also be a viable lawsuit for an employee. It is left for the supervisor to determine if a worker is acting improperly and thus warrant the need for a test. Last year 73% of employees sent to SmithKline for testing were clean, and could have cases for invasion of privacy, or infliction of emotional distress (Flynn 109).
Schools may be going a bit overboard as well. More and more districts are requiring random drug testing. This time it is not just athletes in line, but also students involved in any after-school activities. A school in Indiana is requiring that students produce urine samples to join not just the track team but also the band, and the chess club. Students must also submit to urinalysis if they want to drive to school. In Cave City, Arkansas teens must sign up for random testing if they want to go on field trips or to attend the prom. Private schools are cracking down even harder such as Pope John Paul II High School in Slidell, La, who plans to test the entire student body starting this fall (Hawkins 70).
Although drug use is down slightly after six years of steady increase, some 41% of high school seniors used illicit drugs last year, according to a study by the University of Michigan. Proponents of the procedure say it will relieve students from peer pressure by giving them an excuse to say no (Hawkins 70). Students on the other hand feel that the schools are targeting the wrong kids and testing for the wrong substances. They feel that the kids who participate in after-school activities are not necessarily the ones doing drugs. Some of the most popular teen drugs; nicotine, LSD, steroids, and especially alcohol are typically not targeted because the tests are too expensive and hard to administer. Because of this loophole in the system, alcohol and “hard drugs” are becoming the drug of choice at schools that test their students. Basically, the testing process targets the use of marijuana because it is the most widely used illicit drug. Marijuana is the only drug that is not water soluble, so it stays in the system far longer than traces of other drugs. The person who smoked marijuana two weeks ago has a better chance of testing positive for it than if he used cocaine two days ago (“Why” 1).
Just how effective are the tests given to students? They feel that they are fairly easy to beat. Teens reportedly add salt, Visine, bleach, or vinegar to their samples, or they drink gallons of water to dilute their samples. They also may leave cups behind in bathroom stalls for drug using friends. Items designed to detoxify their systems or to mask drug use can be purchased from stores such as General Nutrition Company (GNC) as well. Schools claim to be fully aware of these tricks. In their defense, some test urine samples for common adulterants. They may even go a bit further and resort to strip searches to make sure students are not carrying products to distort test results. One particular school that make an 18 year old female strip to her underwear during a random teat is the target of a lawsuit. The school claims that they were only following the testing kit’s instructions (Hawkins 71).
Testing facilities are making out like bandits due to the increasing number of schools signing up for testing services. Typically the cost per year for weekly random tests of about 75 students is $70,000. The federal government pitches in to help this exorbitant cost, but it only amounts to a few dollars per student. Private corporations are stepping in, but of course there is a catch. Roche Diagnostic Systems, the leader in workplace drug testing, contributed $100,000 in testing to schools this year with hopes of building future demand of their services. Coca-Cola bottling company sponsors drug testing in exchange for a 10 year contract as the school’s exclusive vendor of soft drinks. Experts also forecast that soon new schools will be constructed with special drug testing facilities built right in, what is this world coming to?
There are many different ways that drug tests are administered. Businesses and schools many require urine, blood, and hair samples from employees and students. The most common type of test right now is the urine test, but hair testing is growing fast. Urine tests cannot test for drugs directly. They test for metabolites, traces of substances taken before the test which are no longer active in your system, but can still be detected. Also, traces of legal medicines; cough syrups, nasal sprays, and ear drops can be confused with those of illegal drugs (Wodell 1).
To date, the most legally defensible “gold standard” for drug testing, is to screen urine samples with the Enzyme-Medicated Immunoassay Technique (EMIT), and then submit the positives from this step to Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS), which in itself, is a two test procedure (Bina, 122). EMIT is inexpensive and easy to perform, but could produce problems if adulterates are present in the urine and creates a false negative. It has been estimated that EMIT is wrong 25 to 35% of the time. EMIT claims that these results are most likely due to adulteration of the urine specimen. GC/MS is considered the most definitive method for confirming the presence of a drug in urine. This procedure is actually the most costly among urine screening, averaging approximately $200 per sample to test. But, it is the most specific method of testing available, and the only way for the drug user to beat this procedure is by substitution of the urine (Bina 123).
There are three factors that affect whether a urine test will be positive: 1) the amount and concentration of the drug that is consumed; 2) the amount of time elapsed between taking the drug and donating the specimen; and 3) the sensitivity of the test used to detect the drug. Please see Table I below:
TABLE I: HOW LONG DO DRUGS STAY IN THE SYSTEM?
DRUG DETECTABLE IN URINE
Alcohol 12 to 24 hours
Amobarbital 2 to 4 days
Amphetamine 2 to 4 days
Butalbital 2 to 4 days
Cannabinoids 2 to 4 days
Occasional Use 2 to 7 days
Regular Use 30 days
Cocaine 12 to 72 hours
Codeine 2 to 4 days
Chlordiazepoxide 30 days
Diazepam 30 days
Dilaudid 2 to 4 days
Ethanol 12 to 24 hours
Heroine 2 to 4 days
Marijuana 30 days
Occasional Use 2 to 7 days
Regular Use 30 days
Morphine 2 to 4 days
Methamphetamine 2 to 4 days
Valium 30 days
Today many companies are doing what the FBI has been doing for years, using hair follicle testing as a means of drug screening. Hair follicle testing is a drug testing method that is perhaps, less demeaning, less invasive, and less likely to be tampered with than the well-known urine test. Although, it is more reliable than urine testing it has its problems that need to be addressed. It is necessary for one to understand how hair grows to be able to understand the testing procedure.
Hair grows within a small cavity known as the hair follicle. Hair growth occurs when cells divide in the matrix near the bottom of the follicle. This is where tissue and blood vessels supply food materials and oxygen to the cells so that cell growth can occur. After someone takes a drug, the drug travels through the blood to cells in the hair follicle. At this point the drug becomes permanently locked into the cells. As new hair moves through the follicle and emerges out of the surface of the skin, the drug is permanently imprinted in the hair. Each instance of drug intake becomes forever recorded on strands of hair in chronological order of when the drug was ingested into the body (Brady 60).
The procedure to test the hair for drugs is quite simple. Between 60 and 120 strands of hair approximately one-and-a-half inches are cut from the scalp. The strands are washed to remove external containment’s. They are liquefied and separate chemical screens are administers. If a drug or drugs are detected, a second test using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry is performed to confirm the findings. Hair follicle testing costs about $50-$65. The initial test results are available in 24 to 48 hours. If the initial screening reveals the presence of drugs, the results of the second test to confirm the findings takes another 48 hour to complete (Brady 60).
There are several advantages to hair follicle testing over urinalysis. For one, they are not fooled by consumption of excessive fluids prior to the test. The test also has no window of detection because hair creates a historical pattern of drug use unlike any other procedure. It cuts down on the embarrassment factor because you don not have to be observed while going to the bathroom, or carrying out the obvious cup. It also does not require any special handling, storage, shipping, or refrigeration.
Although hair follicle testing has its benefits, like the rest of the procedures it has its problems too. First of all, it is very expensive. It costs three times more than urinalysis, because it is still in its early technological stages. It may also cause discomfort because the preferred method is to pluck hair out of the head in order to get intact hair roots. If the root of the hair is not present, very recent drug use (five to eight days) cannot be detected. The last factor is inconsistent hair growth rate. The “average” growth rate is this procedure is considered to be a half-inch per month, but that may not be accurate. Some people’s hair may grow faster of slower than the average. This difference is crucial in determining when the person consumed the drug (Brady 61).
Although hair follicle testing seems to be the most accurate way to test for drug use, there is much debate over the accuracy of it because of the difference in the way hair reacts with the environment. It is feared that African-Americans are subject to false positive results. This issue has been brought to the House Judiciary Committee due to several cases of job discharges blamed for what employees call false-positives (Kean 32).
Hair testing may also be under fire in several racial discrimination law suits. Apparently, in August 1998seven Chicago African-Americans say they received erroneous hair test results when applying for the Police Academy. All seven have filed complaints of racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaints are currently under investigation, and the group is considering suing both the city of Chicago and Psychemedics, the testing facility. The procedure is said by some to be inaccurate and to give false positives disproportionately to African Americans. Also, blonde hair, dark hair and dyed hair react differently thus creating questions of equity among ethnic groups and genders. A study released by the National Institute of Drug Abuse shows that dark, coarse hair of many African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians is more likely to retain external contamination, such as drug residues absorbed from the environment. Black hair retained drugs at a rate up to fifty times higher than the white hair (Kean 34). Hair testing facilities insist that hair samples are washed thoroughly to remove the hair surface, which totally eliminates any external environmental contaminants before testing.
There may also be a reason that no hair testing has been federally certified, and Psychemedics has refused to disclose its testing and analysis procedures to the scientific community. In 1998, Sergeant Duane Adens, an African American was discharged from his fourteen-year job at the Pentagon for allegedly failing a hair test. Adens was six years away from retirement when two agents from the Army’s Critical Investigation Division asked him to testify against an associate of his, who had been accused of stealing. Adens refused because he had no knowledge of the crime. He was later threatened with his job due to the refusal, and given a urine test which he passed. Three months later Adens was forced to provide samples of his pubic hair for drug testing. He was never given an opportunity to sign off on the hair to identify it as his own, and much to his surprise it came back positive. Seven urinalysis tests had been taken over the course of a year and a half, and all came back negative. The sergeant’s attorney requested a DNA test to verify the identity of the hair, and the U.S. Army denied his request. Because of the hair-test results, Adens received a bad conduct discharge and was robbed of something he had worked hard at for fourteen years of his life (Kean 35-36).
Hair testing opponents also argue that the test is unfair because it can expose genetic information contained in DNA, such as hereditary defects or a predisposition to certain diseases. Opponents are worried that this data may be used to their disadvantage by insurance companies, as a way to deny them coverage. Companies could also use this information to bar promotions because someone may be likely to suffer a major illness later in life (Curry 163).
In conclusion, I would like to point out that companies and schools who are considering implementing a drug testing policy must be very careful and follow all of the rules. The policy should prohibit the use, possession, sale or transfer of illegal drugs in the workplace, and more detailed policies will prohibit all of these on or off company time. The company must also give the employee the ability to explain any positive results. In some states, employers are required to accommodate an employee’s request for unpaid time off for rehab (Flynn 107). Usually it is in everyone’s best interest to allow an employee time for rehabilitation because if a good employee is saved, everyone benefits.
Positivity Rates by Testing Category
Testing Category 1998 1997 1996 1995
Federally Mandated, Safety-Sensitive Workforce 3.4% 3.5% 3.6% 3.4%
General Workforce 5.0% 5.2% 6.4% 7.5%
Combined U.S. Workforce 4.8% 5.0% 5.8% 6.7%
Positivity Rates By Testing Reason
(For Federally Mandated, Safety Sensitive Workforce)
(More than 650,000 tests from January to December,1998)
Testing Reason 1998 1997
For Cause 15.3% 14.4%
Periodic 1.4% 1.9%
Post-Accident 4.3% 4.3%