Illegal drugs are a big problem for Garry M. Ritzky: too many of
his job applicants use them. Ritzky, risk and human resources
director for the Oklahoma City transportation and oil services
company Turner Brothers Trucking, is having a hard time finding
candidates who are clean of cocaine, marijuana and heroin.
"We have an oil pipe operation that uses unskilled laborers, and
we're seeing more positive drug tests," he said. "We had three last
The number of positive drug tests among applicants for low-
jobs at Turner Brothers has doubled in the last year, Ritzky added.
Such evidence, while mostly anecdotal, runs counter to the decline
in positive drug tests most businesses have seen the last decade.
Yet with the unemployment rate at a 25-year low and the economy
continuing to grow, more human resource managers say they are
starting to see a small but disturbing increase in the number of job
applicants who fail screening for drug and alcohol abuse.
One reason for that increase, they say, is that as the supply of
potential employees continues to shrink, those with drug and alcohol
problems probably represent a larger portion of the labor pool.
Some also say a number of products now available to beat drug
tests are encouraging some job applicants to take chances. And
marijuana, they say, is again in vogue.
According to a study released late last year by the National
Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 16 percent of unemployed people used
illicit drugs in 1994. When the data were collected, unemployment
was at 6.1 percent. Today, with unemployment at 4.7 percent,
qualified job seekers are harder to find.
"Employers are finding it harder to find people who are not using
drugs," said James G. Lipari, public health adviser for the federal
government's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. "Since there are
more employers using testing and other prevention means, there are
more people who are unemployed for that reason, which makes the pool
of unemployed who are using drugs great."
But these apparent trends are not yet reflected in the data. When
drug testing first became widespread, in the late 1980s, about 18
percent of the tests showed signs of drug use, according to
SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories, one of the nation's
drug-testing labs. That number, which represents mostly screening of
applicants and a small amount of tests for workers already on the
job, fell steadily, to 8. …