Drug Testing

Trends in ... drug testing

‘The primary goal of workplace drug testing is deterrence’

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Left photo: Nina M. French; right photo: Jackie Pirone

To Nina M. French, “understanding that deterrence is the primary goal provides employers with a ruler by which they can measure the goals of a successful workplace drug testing program.”

What else do French, who is president of employer and law enforcement solutions at Hound Labs in Oakland, CA, and Jackie Pirone, program director for the risk assessment team at OraSure, believe employers need to know about drug testing?

For starters, testing “no longer needs to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” Prione said. Here, she and French share their thoughts on recent innovations in drug testing, customer concerns when it comes to drug testing, and what they wish employers and workers better understood about testing for drugs at work.

Have there been recent innovations in drug testing?

French: As employers and safety professionals continue to struggle with the impact of cannabis legalization and an employer’s right to drug test candidates and employees, breath testing for cannabis has been introduced to the industry. Breath testing is a powerful tool required for today’s complex landscape of cannabis. THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, only lasts in breath for a few hours. Unlike other testing technologies that provide a longer window of detection, a cannabis breath test specifically isolates recent use.

Pirone: The reliability and validity of instant/rapid drug testing has increased recently, making it more widely accepted and used. The advantage of having instant results is employers can admit workers to the jobsite and conduct pre-employment testing quickly. Rapid testing is also ideal for recent-use detection, which is especially important when considering post-incident or random testing to rule out drug use.

What concerns or questions are customers coming to you with about drug testing? What advice do you provide?

French: “Can I and should I continue to test for cannabis?” The answer is a resounding “Yes.” Cannabis use is on the rise everywhere, in all demographics, and the statistics demonstrate this means more use at work. Testing new employees immediately after hiring allows employers to reinforce their cannabis policy before investing thousands of dollars in a new employee. Continuing to test over the span of employment supports that policy. Failing to test opens employers to costly negligence and safety claims. Reminding employers that, again, workplace testing programs designed to deter use immediately before or during work allows the employer to focus on a leading indicator for workplace safety and risk mitigation.

Pirone: We receive many questions about whether employers should keep testing for THC, especially with many states legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Employers feel if they continue to test for THC that it will affect their ability to hire. Some employers also question whether they should continue to drug test at all.

The advice we offer to employers is to continue to drug test. Opioid use and overdoses are at an all-time high. It’s important for employers to ensure their workplace is kept safe to minimize potential incidents. We suggest employers use a testing method, such as oral fluid, that detects recent drug and/or alcohol use so employers know if an employee is currently under the influence.

What do you wish employers and workers better understood about drug testing in the workplace?

French: New cannabis laws have introduced impairment for workplace drug testing in several states – and that shift is misdirected. The primary goal of workplace drug testing is deterrence. Deterring drug use at work supports a company’s goal of risk mitigation, cost containment and safety. Cannabis testing that measures recent use and occurs over the continuum of employment is fair for employers and employees, and serves that primary goal.

Pirone: We would like employers to know that although urine has traditionally been used for drug testing, there are now three federally endorsed methodologies for drug testing – urine, oral fluid and hair. Any of these methodologies can be combined or used individually.

For instance, consider using oral fluid to detect immediate use, urine for intermediate use and hair for long- term use. Adjusting your testing program to use a variety of methodologies allows for greater flexibility in achieving your overall goal of creating a safe work environment.

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

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