Robert E. Gladd,
Thesis work-in-progress internet edition:

UNLV Institute for Ethics & Policy Studies

The case against indiscriminate drug testing:
Pro-testing lobbying organizations

   Nevada Senate Bill 371 has a curiously close resemblance to measures promoted around the nation at the statehouse level by an organization calling itself the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace (click here). A quick review of the Institute’s membership roster might impel one toward concluding that this organization is in reality a commercial drug testing industry lobbying group. One might also take note of the detailed similarities between SB 371 and other state-level measures the Institute admits to being involved with. See, for example, their News Updates pages, particularly the item detailing their efforts on behalf of the recent Idaho Senate Bill 1042, and the item concerning proposed Tennessee Labor Department drug testing regulations. Take the time to review for yourself SB 371 and the Idaho and Tennessee reports. Draw your own conclusions. Repeatedly queries of Nevada Senators regarding lobby group promotion of SB 371 went unanswered.

   Interestingly, the Tennessee proposal states that employment drug test “results may be used or received in evidence, obtained in discovery, or disclosed in any civil or administrative proceeding.” (see “Confidentiality Requirements”)

   The “Institute” will no doubt be ramping up ever more feverishly in these legislative arenas in the wake of threats to arbitrary testing posed by developments such as the one reported recently in USA Today:

06/20/97 - 04:50 PM ET

Low jobless rate hinders drug policies

Job applicants in South Carolina have become so confident that jobs are easy to find that some are refusing to take pre-employment drug tests.

A manufacturer in Arizona has postponed for six weeks the firing of 30 videotaped internal users and sellers of marijuana and cocaine while it seeks replacement hires to keep the plant operating.

Last year, that would have been almost unheard of, says Charles Carroll, CEO of ASSET, which contracts with companies to infiltrate the workplace in search of employee drug abuse. "There's been a dramatic change."

The 4.8% unemployment rate in May, lowest in more than 23 years, is good news for workers. But it has forced many employers to relax hiring standards.

Drug users usually are screened out by large employers. Drug testing is now used by 95% of Fortune 500 companies.

Many smaller companies had started testing because the cost is offset by increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and fewer accidents. Drug use is a factor in employee theft and fraud that cost businesses $400 billion a year.

"Safety is being jeopardized by leaving them on the job," Carroll says.

But today's applicants sense they have an advantage and can refuse to submit to drug tests because the company will give them the job anyway, or they'll go down the street, figures Ray Owens of the Federal Reserve's Fifth District in Richmond, Va.

While collecting data for the latest "Beige Book," the Fed's periodic report on regional economic conditions, Owens was told of job prospects refusing drug tests in South Carolina. He was stunned, and is now on the lookout for a trend. "This one caught our eye."

Companies can't reverse drug testing policies overnight without risking discrimination lawsuits, says Clifford Thomas of Pinkerton Services.

But Carroll says even Fortune 500 companies are becoming "softer" within their policies. For example, workers are being suspended and quickly brought back after second and third drug offenses rather than being fired.

"It wouldn't surprise me if employers are loosening their practices to get bodies," Thomas says.

Companies are stuck, Carroll says. They must choose between a plant with drug abuse that "runs at 50% efficiency, or having no workers at all."

Thomas says the dilemma will likely worsen in August and September when retailers, normally big on pre-employment drug screening, begin hiring for the holiday season.

By Del Jones, USA TODAY

   Once again we see it taken on utter faith that workplace drug testing has provided effective deterrence and is principally responsible for a decade-long decline in workplace drug abuse incidence. An article in Forensic Drug Abuse Advisor (Vol. 7, No. 1, p 6), however, casts doubt on the assumption, concluding that “[N]o study has ever demonstrated that this decrease (in recent workplace drug abuse rates) is due to the work testing program, nor has it been demonstrated with any certainty that, in commonly used doses, any of the widely abused drugs significantly impacts on job performance.”

   The article goes on to quote JAMA author Craig Zwerling who noted that “a large industry of drug testers has arisen with a financial stake in expanding the market for workplace drug tests. The industry includes the companies that manufacture the equipment and chemicals used in drug testing, the laboratories that carry out the test, the companies that collect the urine specimens, the medical review officers (MRO's) who review the test results, and the consultants who advise companies on drug testing.” [JAMA, (272 [18] 1467-1468)].

   This financial imperative is also noted by D. Kim Broadwell in The Evolution of Workplace Drug Testing: A Medical Review Officer’s Perspective (The Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, Vol. 22:3 Fall 1994, pp. 240-46.):

   Which is why we have dubious “Institutes” forever fanning the flames of a questionable workplace drug abuse “crisis.”

SB 371 July 1997 update: The Nevada Legislature adjourned without taking action on SB 371, and the legislature does not convene again for two years. A Senate staffer recently emailed me to advise me that the bill had died in committee and to thank me for my interest in the political process, but ignored my precise query regarding the paternity of the proposal.

January 1998 Update: The National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws: Pushing the envelope on IRS § 501(c)(3) non-profit “charitable organization” regulations (click here).

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