Drug, ALcohol Testing to Affect Increasing Number of Workers

By Wolfe, Lou Anne | THE JOURNAL RECORD, September 9, 1994 | Go to article overview

Drug, ALcohol Testing to Affect Increasing Number of Workers


Wolfe, Lou Anne, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Journal Record Staff Reporter

Workplace drug and alcohol testing is a governmentally scrutinized fact of life, affecting an increasing number of employees.

Dr. Mike Fowler, director of toxicology for St. Anthony Hospital, said the rules to implement Oklahoma's new drug testing law are still being written. There are federal rules galore, however.

Beginning in January, U.S. Department of Transportation drug testing rules will be binding on companies that employ more than 50 commercial drivers, Fowler said. Among others, this will affect city employees and public school bus drivers. Effective Jan. 1, 1996, the rules will be extended to companies with fewer than 50 drivers.

"That will affect church van drivers _ anybody that drives people, is paid for it and has a commercial driver's license," he said.

Under federal transportation rules, drug and alcohol tests are conducted prior to employment of an individual, following an accident, periodically (drugs only) and at random. People can be tested if there is reasonable suspicion of drug or alcohol abuse, and follow-up testing to an episode is permitted.

Oklahoma's new law, which provides guidelines for employers who conduct substance abuse tests, will permit testing under similar circumstances as the federal law.

The federal regulations require a urine specimen to be split into two samples, Fowler said. One is sealed, and the other is tested by a laboratory. If the test is positive for drug or alcohol content, the employee can request a second test on the sealed sample by a different lab. The person overseeing the test process may not observe the employee during production of the specimen.

"The problem is, users will do almost anything to adulterate the sample," Fowler said. So bluing is added to the water in the testing area, and no sink is available. A temperature strip on the collection bottle must read between 90 and 100 degrees within four minutes of collection. If the temperature is below that range, analysts know tampering has occurred.

If the test giver has reason to believe the specimen was adulterated, then observation of the collection is allowed, Fowler said.

When the specimen reaches the laboratory, the analyst will test for adulteration by smelling it, shaking it to see if it foams, and a chemical test.

Under federal law, the laboratory is asked to test for the presence of amphetamine and methamphetamine; marijuana; cocaine; opiates, such as heroin, morphine and codeine; and phencyclidine (PCP). Besides those drugs, Oklahoma's law includes hallucinogens, methaqualone, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, synthetic narcotics and "designer" drugs.

Although Oklahoma's law does not require a split urine sample, the St. Anthony toxicology lab recommends to its business clients that split samples be collected, Fowler said. Marijuana is the drug most commonly detected, followed by cocaine and methamphetamine. Heroin is rare, and PCP almost never turns up.

Some laboratories do only the initial screening process on the sample, while others have the capability to screen and confirm the test results, Fowler said. St. Anthony's lab is certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at a cost of $26,000 a year. This certification formerly was designated "NIDA," for National Institute of Drug Abuse.

As part of the rigorous certification process, the lab is required every two months to analyze 10 specimens sent by Health and Human Services, Fowler said. "We analyze them and send the results back, and they grade them. If we report a false positive, we lose our certification immediately." Not only must the lab correctly identify the drug content in the sample, it must accurately measure the amount. "If you fall out of range on very many, you could lose your certification, too," he said. …

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