Occupational Health, Drug Testing Centers on the Increase

Article excerpt

If you've changed jobs during the past decade you've probably been asked for more than your Social Security number.

Workplace drug testing has shot up from less than one-fourth to more than three-fourths of employers just since Ronald Reagan's last year in office.

The percentage of employers who require drug testing -- whether pre-employment, random or after an accident -- was 21.5 in 1987 and 77.7 last year, according to the American Management Association.

As result, a growing number of Oklahoma clinics specialize in occupational health, of which drug testing is an important component.

Oklahoma City's largest hospital, St. Anthony, has opened five occupational health centers since 1991.

"It's one of the few growing fields in medicine," said Dr. Melissa Smith-Horn, medical director for the St. Anthony clinics.

"There are more federal regulations, and companies need access to experts who know the law, both in workers compensation and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)."

Besides the anchor location at Reno and Meridian, St. Anthony's takes worker specimens from locations downtown, on-site at Dayton Tire and Xerox and in Shawnee.

The Shawnee clinic opened one year ago. The nearly 28,000- population city is home to several manufacturing plants, including five that employ more than 400.

Occupational health centers and drug testing centers also have increased in Oklahoma City in recent years.

"A few years ago, we had no competition whatsoever. There may have been three in the city," said Robin Pritchard, assistant center administrator for Meridian Occupational Health Center.

Today, Meridian is one of four occupational health clinics clustered near Reno and Portland, and clinic numbers have grown citywide.

The state doesn't regulate clinics that take samples and send them to independent laboratories. But it does license laboratories that do the testing of samples from Oklahoma.

Sixty-seven laboratories in Oklahoma and out of state are licensed to test blood or urine samples from Oklahoma, the health department said. The department began licensing drug labs in 1994.

The intense competition began about three and a half years ago, after federal law and transportation regulation changes, Pritchard said.

She has been with Meridian clinic for a decade, starting about two years after it opened.

Baptist Medical Center owned it until May, when Meridian merged with Occupational Health Centers, part of a Dallas-based public company. The Oklahoma City hospital still owns 49 percent of the clinic.

U.S. Department of Transportation regulations for truck drivers have become increasingly strict, Pritchard said. …