When Noel Ginsberg, president of Intertech Plastics Inc., discovered that half the candidates for jobs at his firm are eliminated because they fail or refuse to take a drug test, he was astonished.
"I never realized how widespread the drug problem was until we started drug testing," Mr. Ginsberg told a group of businesspeople at a conference here recently. While the statement apparently startled many attendees, others nodded knowingly.
The rise of mandatory drug testing at businesses across the United States during the past decade has radically changed the size and makeup of many company's applicant pools. Many job hunters, fearful of a positive result, are simply staying away from companies that test. Combine that with a tight labor market - the unemployment rate is just 2.7 percent here, for example - and clean workers are an increasingly precious commodity. "All the reports say the drug-free worker is in high demand," says Mike Avery, who oversees the Colorado Department of Transportation's drug-testing program. Fewer applicants Asked if drug testing has any effect on the number of applicants, Mr. Avery says "it absolutely does." Before his department began a federally mandated screening program in 1993, it typically received about 3,000 applicants for any given job. Today, that's down to about 300. Also, in the first year of the drug-free workplace program, the test-failure rate was nearly 50 percent. Since then, that rate has dropped to 2 percent, mostly because habitual drug-users have figured out that they needn't bother applying, he says. But in industries like construction and manufacturing, where drug testing is not mandatory, a 50 percent elimination rate is not surprising, Avery adds. According to statistics from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, 70 percent of illicit drug users are employed. That's about 10 million Americans. The Clearinghouse, based in Rockville, Md., also reports that the highest rates of substance abuse occur in the construction industry: 17.3 percent of construction workers abuse drugs or alcohol in the workplace. Runners-up are in the manufacturing, labor, food service, and retail industries. A multibillion-dollar problem Although strides are being made in prevention of substance abuse, it remains "an ongoing chronic situation" in the US, says Bruce Mendelson, director of data evaluation for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse division of the Colorado Department of Human Services. …