Drug Testing Assailed

By Gips, Michael A. | Security Management, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Drug Testing Assailed


Gips, Michael A., Security Management


Workplace drug testing has become common as employers become convinced of the nexus between substance abuse and poor work performance. But a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) questions the benefits usually associated with drug testing, challenges the process's cost-effectiveness, contests its overall value, and touts less-intrusive alternatives.

Drug testing remains common, the report argues, because "the drug testing industry continues to use exaggerated claims of drug testing's effectiveness to pressure the business community to maintain existing drug testing programs and establish new ones.

The report dismisses the various claims of the benefits of drug testing as based on "junk science." It also questions the effectiveness of urine and hair testing in detecting drug use, arguing, for example, that urine tests search not for drugs but for drug metabolites, and that a legal drug may have the same metabolites as an illegal drug, as is the case with codeine and heroin.

The ACLU cites analysis by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which found that most workers who use illicit drugs never use them at work, and when they use drugs on their own time, they do so in a way that does not affect their work performance. "The 'residual effects' of occasional off-duty stimulant use, the [NAS] found, were no more profound than the effects that occur following 'sleep deprivation in the absence of drug use."'

Moreover, the ACLU report argues that drug tests are a poor solution because they do not measure impairment; they mainly identify employees who have used a drug within some prior time frame but who are not necessarily under the influence at work.

Similarly, the ACLU condemns studies showing a link between drug use and absenteeism or turnover as flawed for failing to control for age and gender. …

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