We're Getting the Message About Drugs

OUR company recently instituted drug tests for prospective employees. We could be doing much more: I believe our policy should include reasonable cause, post-accident, and possibly random testing of every

employee. Shouldn't workplace drug testing be almost universal by now?

Experts say an increasing number of employers are using drug tests, sometimes in conjunction with alcohol testing. Privacy concerns that once seemed compelling to me no longer suffice--especially with the federal government signaling its interest in oral fluid, hair, and sweat testing as alternatives or complements to urine testing. I want accurate, trustworthy, fast, and fairly administered testing used as widely as possible in occupational settings. American workers overwhelmingly accept it because it gives a needed boost to their own safety.

In addition, our nation's drug problem isn't going away. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took comments until Oct. 28 on a proposed rule that would require manufacturers, distributors, importers, and exporters of pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine to stop thefts of those chemicals with new security procedures. The chemicals are available over the counter and increasingly used to produce methamphetamine and amphetamine; large testing firms say meth positives are rising among U.S. workers.

Phenylpropanolamine has been withdrawn from OTC drugs and now has only a few human and veterinary uses, according to DEA, but pseudoephedrine is used in OTC decongestants and ephedrine in asthma medications. The agency's notice says meth lab seizures nationwide rose from just 224 in 1994 to 9,612 in 2002, but even that figure is an understatement because not all seizures are reported to DEA. Its statistics indicate the problem is ubiquitous: The 2002 seizures included 1,049 in Missouri, 674 in Washington, 481 in Oklahoma, 435 in Arkansas and Tennessee, 400 in Oregon, 394 in Indiana, 391 in Texas, 364 in Iowa, 336 in Illinois, and 334 in Kansas. Nine other states reported at least 100 lab seizures each in that year.

DEA's proposed security measures include storage of the chemicals in a safe, steel cabinet, cage, or room with a monitored alarm system linked to a central location "or procedures that generally provide the same level of protection." DEA said it will consider recommendations for alternatives assuring the same level of security.

Drug use at work is life-threatening. Zero tolerance is just good business.

This article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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