Drug Testing: Issues and Options

Drug Testing: Issues and Options

Drug Testing: Issues and Options

Drug Testing: Issues and Options


From workplace to school, from professional sports to the armed services, the advent of drug-testing procedures has stirred debate and controversy. Although designed to detect and thereby curtail the use of illicit drugs, this well-intentioned procedure involves difficult issues which require informed decision making. In this thought-provoking and practical book, Robert Coombs and Louis Jolyon West introduce readers to the complex world of drug testing. Written in nontechnical language for those concerned with substance abuse issues, the authors explore drug-testing methodology and offer guidelines for selecting the appropriate screening techniques. The questions concerning "voluntary" testing, individual rights-of-privacy, and the psychological effects of mandatory testing are also discussed. Separate chapters are devoted to testing in the military, in athletics, and in private industry. Other topics include the politics of drug-testing and the treatment and counseling of drug abusers. This fascinating and important work offers crucial information for policymakers, parents, employers and employees, and will be of particular value to those who are or will be the subjects of drug screening. By telling the story of drug testing, this book enlightens and clarifies the national debate.


The evolving story of drug testing is complex, multifaceted, and controversial. Almost overnight, testing has grown into a $1 billion industry (Hafner &Garland, 1988). Amid national concern about illicit drug abuse, drug testing (mostly urinalysis) has burst upon the American scene as a contentious issue.

At work and at school, thousands of individuals are tested for drugs. Some acquiesce, others refuse; acrimonious conflicts and legal actions ensue. Despite abundant criticism, drug testing, called "the premier issue in labor relations for the next decade," has become an established part of American society (Kaufman, 1986).

Most Americans find it easy to be on both sides of the issue at once and to vacillate from one point of view to the other as each side argues its case. On the one hand, it is a relief to see something effective being done to curtail the ever-growing and worrisome problem of drug abuse. Yet drug testing is an invasion of privacy. "I have mixed feelings, I really do," a mother confessed. "I'm afraid for my son, but where do you stop? Next thing you know, we're going to be testing the preacher. I may end up being 49.5 percent in favor and 49.5 percent opposed" (Applebome, 1986).

Even among the most vocal combatants, the battle lines in this dispute are not always neatly drawn. Internal disagreements have arisen among some unions and employee groups, for example, whether to oppose or support drug testing. A drug-free, safe workplace is appealing to all employees, but mandatory testing can be a control issue, a humiliating intrusion by management into a subordinate's privacy. Neither are all employers singleminded about how strictly to enforce drug testing, who to test, and in what circumstances.

Those who favor drug testing, insisting that employers have the right to demand a drug-free work force, point to absenteeism, diminished productivity, increased accidents, medical claims, and theft as results of drug abuse. "Drug abuse is an economic hemorrhage on the business community," said an executive of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. A Gallup Poll commissioned by the institute found one in four U.S. workers aware of co-workers who use illegal drugs on the job. Estimated losses resulting from drug abuse are $60 billion annually (Kelley, 1989).

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