Employment-related drug testing is a $2 billion industry in the U.S. But does it reduce drug use and promote workplace safety?
Proponents of drug testing, including the federal government, say research shows testing does discourage drug use. For example, after the Department of Defense started testing 1985, the number of service members reporting illegal drug use in the previous 30 days dropped from 8.9 percent to 4.8 percent three years later. About 52 percent of drug users said testing encouraged them to avoid drugs.
But critics say the tests don’t actually improve worker safety. Researchers at Flinders University in Australia recently analyzed 23 different studies on the effects of drug and alcohol testing on the rate of workplace injuries.
“(We) found the overall quality of most of these studies weak,” according to the study, which appeared in the journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention.
In 1996, Washington started offering industrial insurance discounts to employers who adopted a drug-free workplace program. The pilot project was discontinued after four years due to lack of savings, according to the state Department of Labor & Industries. Several other states still offer those programs, though.
Testing opponents also have a bone to pick about privacy.
“A urine drug test is, kind of by definition, an invasion of privacy. I don’t normally invite people along when I’m peeing,” quipped Doug Klunder, an attorney for American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. And often people have to list out prescriptions before a test, which may force them to reveal medical conditions they’d rather keep private, Klunder said.
“I don’t want my employer to know if I’m taking (prescription) drugs whether for diabetes, depression, you name it; that’s none of my employer’s business,” he said.
ACLU suggests instead employers in safety-sensitive environments conduct reflex and attention tests, which could catch other forms of impairment too, such as fatigue, Klunder argues.