Don't Kill the Messenger — Profiles in Persistence

The challenges in providing services in a controversial industry

Posted Apr 04, 2018

One of more misunderstood, yet widely mandated requirements affecting employees and employers alike is the requirement to drug test employees. 

According to a report from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Abuse of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs is costly to our nation, exacting more than $740 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care.”Compare this to a report from 2011 which estimated that drug and alcohol abuse costs $100 billion to workplaces every year.

More confusing yet is the array of testing options, time-frames, locations, and of course the ever-present “legalization” debate.

Managing the array of potential issues while navigating the nuances of the actual testing requires consistency, persistence, and diligence. Which brings me to my an interview with Ashlee Bonvicin, Vice President of Operations for US Drug Test Centers.

Drug testing plays a large role in the addiction and recovery industry, of which I am a part, so it is of particular interest to me, as there is a lot of confusion and debate about the process and the impact of drug use on the workplace. This interview, nevertheless, is informative for all.

Mendi Baron:
So, drug testing: Some love it, some hate it. What has your experience been like?

Ashlee Bonvicin:

We have all different types of interactions, from companies who want their employees tested to upset parents who are in a child custody battle, to personal calls asking how drug testing works or how long drugs stay in your system. The companies that truly care about their employees love it because they are able to vet out the potential risks associated with employees who use or abuse drugs and alcohol. We have parents who call to order drug testing for their ex-spouse to make sure they are able to pass a drug test before seeing their children, or to care for the safety of their children who may be using or abusing drugs. We have the “lookie-loos” and “scientists” who just want to ask a lot of questions to see what the drug test process is and how they can beat it. We have lawyers and “anti-government” types, and a whole range of creative applications for testing. Obviously the more standard kind is the employee or employer testing and DOT mandated drug testing.

MB:
So it’s a “don’t kill the messenger” kind of thing. I get that drug use is an obvious negative in the workplace, and many studies indicate that drug use is actually on the rise. Where do you see the most damage in terms of employee drug use? And what kinds of substances are you seeing more of?

AB:

The areas of employee drug use that cost businesses significantly relate to workers compensation, the costs of medical care,  employee absenteeism, decreases in productivity. Additionally the amount of employee turnover and its associated costs can be quite significant.

In terms of drug use in the workplace, I recently read a report from Quest Diagnostics that states that there has been a significant increase in cocaine, meth and marijuana use among American workers.. This is particularly interesting as debate has centered around marijuana and opiates, but the already accepted illicit drugs are also on the rise in the workplace.

MB:
Which drugs do you get the most pushback on when testing is mandated by the employer, and why do you think that is?

AB:

Most definitely marijuana! People feel we are invading their rights because marijuana is legal. They feel that because they have a medical marijuana card, if they fail a drug test, their medical card should justify it and they should not be affected by the drug testing laws or regulations.

They often put us in the same category as the lawmakers or employers and blame us for the process, even leaving negative feedback online regarding testing. They often fail to separate the law from those who are simply providing a service for people to stay compliant with the law. We didn’t make the laws, we don’t enforce the laws, we don’t work for the law. We are simply making it easy for them to do what it takes to keep their jobs, or licenses.

MB:
I can see how DOT drug testing will always be a thing. What about employee drug testing in general? Where do you think mandated drug testing is headed in the next few years?

AB:

Even DOT drug testing is in flux! We have seen a change in the mandated DOT drug testing over the past few years. We used to have a federal requirement to randomly drug test all FMSCA DOT members at a 50% drug rate / 25% alcohol rate annually, but about 2 years ago they changed that to 25% drug / 10% alcohol. I am very surprised they were able to get the lower rate passed, due to marijuana becoming recreationally legal. I think we may see those percentages going back up in the near future.

As laws change, incidents occur, data develops, and employers and their insurers seek to protect their companies and generally steer clear of the trouble caused by employees under the influence, we will see things change more. This is of course always balanced against the need to treat employees and their privacy lawfully and with dignity and respect. As a third-party drug testing company servicing employers, this is where we come in to play: On the bridge between employer needs and employee dignity and wellbeing.

MB:
And if I may: what impact does the whole legal marijuana piece have on US drug testing as well as your clients?

AB:

Every day we have companies calling us in a panic wondering what to do. We also work with companies to help create drug-free workplace programs.

MB:
In the drug and alcohol rehab industry, the use of testing is common and accepted by client and provider alike, but there is a greater stigma associated with drug testing in the workplace. That said, how does a small business swing the kind of cost and manpower needed to do it right?

AB:

Cost really depends on employee turnover. Costs can be high if companies are always drug testing new hires and then having to replace them, but the up-front cost can be much cheaper than the liability/insurance costs that may come later if an accident happens while someone is under the influence. There have been news reports that American employers in the midwest are hiring refugees at an increased rate due to the sheer number of American employees failing in the application process or fired due to substance abuse

MB:
I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.