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Is It Time to Re-Evaluate Your Drug Testing Policy? Review These 5 Areas

Date Published: March 08, 2018 | Last Updated:September 15, 2023 | By Accurate Background
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Imagine this: As an employer, you take great precautions to ensure a new hire will be a suitable fit for the position, your team and enhancing your business. You have a series of reviews in place to support your decision including interview(s), a background check and drug test. The same process all your employees have undergone for the last 10 years. Now, a couple months after a new hire has started, you learn the employee has an addiction to pain killers, a controlled substance which wasn’t tested for prior to their start. Additionally, because you felt a background check and drug test were enough, you don’t have a written policy stating the use of a controlled substance while at work is a terminable offense. How do you proceed?

Just like any process you implement to enhance efficiency or reduce compliance risk, it is important to revisit it periodically to determine if it remains as effective as when first applied. Evaluating your current process and understanding drug testing best practices can reduce the risk of adding an employee abusing drugs to your team.


Review These 5 Areas When Evaluating Your Drug Testing Policy

1. Which Testing Method is Best for Your Needs?

In a previous blog, we discussed how to identify which drug testing method is best for your organization. Choosing the right method can change your onboarding process considerably in terms of turnaround time, accuracy and cost efficiency. Below are a list of pros and cons associated with the most common drug testing methods. It is important to unserstand your goals when it comes to the drug testing method you choose as well as the overall impact it can have on your onboarding program.

Urine Drug Test

Pros Cons
Cost effective Limited window of detection
Greater site coverage, making it more
convenient to collect a specimen
The specimen can be substituted,
adulterated or diluted by donor
Customization of testing panels to include
drugs like opioids
Biological hazard for specimen handling
and shipping to laboratory.
Most likely of all testing methods to
withstand legal challenge
International drug testing has to be shipped
to a US lab which can increase turnaround time

Hair Drug Test

Pros Cons
Longer window of detection and can
measure chronic drug use
More expensive than urine or oral fluid
Convenient shipping and storage Limited testing panels available
Requires collection to be completed by a technician, reducing chances of adulteration Does not detect drug use within 5-7 days of collection
Collection complications due to length or
lack of hair or cultural/religious differences

Oral Fluid/Saliva Drug Test

Pros Cons
Direct observation Shortest detection window
Reflects recent drug use Not all collection devices are FDA Approved
Minimal risk of tampering with specimen Inventory to be maintained by employer
Easy collection
Cost effective
Instant and Lab-Based testing options


2. Recreational and Medical Use

In the last few years, there has been a lot of activity and conversation concerning recreational and medical use of drugs. Many states around the country have updated their legislature regarding recreational use of drugs, particularly Marijuana. There are currently 9 states, plus Washington D.C., where recreational use is allowed, in addition to the 29 where medical use is legal. Maine is the most recent state to have passed legislature prohibiting adverse employment decisions based on a candidate’s use of Marijuana outside of the workplace, opening the door to question how employers should navigate testing for drug abuse in an environment which is evolving considerably.

To ensure your drug testing practices are compliant with the latest legislation, consult your drug testing vendor to discuss how your tests may be impacted. In many cases, vendors offering urine testing can customize a panel to include or exclude certain drugs. Most vendors will utilize a medical review officer (MRO) to follow up with the donor to identify any additional factors for a positive test result such as certain foods, prescribed medications, etc. You can discuss your MRO’s role in greater detail with your vendor. Additionally, consult your legal team to identify any potential risks associated with your current process or changes you would like to make to your existing drug policy.


3. Opioid Crisis

Drug use in America for both uncontrolled and controlled substances has evolved considerably in terms of abuse, availability and popularity. Employers across the country are facing scenarios like the one mentioned, as the US is currently facing an opioid epidemic. The CDC states from 2000 to 2016, more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses. Additionally, deaths from prescription opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, have more than quadrupled since 1999. The effects of the crisis extend beyond age groups and social demographics, impacting employers around the nation.

The National Safety Council reports 57% of employers are performing drug tests, and out of those, more than 40% do not screen for synthetic opioids, the most widely abused narcotics. Discuss adding an opioid drug test to your current process to help reduce your risk of adding a synthetic opioid user to your team. Most standard 10 panel urine tests have also removed outdated drugs like methaqualone and propoxyphene to add oxycodone and ecstasy, taking into consideration current problematic drugs. You may want to check if your drug tests still include these outdated drugs or if they have been changed to test for the latest abused substances. If you are unsure of what to test for, utilize the knowledge and expertise of your vendor to identify which tests would be most helpful based on location, legislative restrictions and position type.


4. Ensure you are Testing per Position

We addressed the importance of remaining transparent with your potential hire in our blog, Is Your Candidate Experience Up to Date?. This is true in regards to drug testing as well. Use the test as a resource to assist with hiring decisions, rather than a method to prove someone does abuse drugs. Being up front with your potential employee in discussing drug testing requirements and how they fit into the role or culture of the organization can create trust and reduce the possibility of a specimen being tampered with.

Additionally, consider how a drug test’s result will impact a candidate’s ability to complete the requirements of the position. Often, employers apply an overarching standard across an organization, however, the position might not fit the need. For example, the receptionist at a science lab might not need the same depth of background check and drug testing as would a lead scientist. A position for a trucking company might require an employee to be drug tested randomly or multiple times throughout the year. Customizing your onboarding process based on a position’s need can prove to be an effective decision in terms of risk reduction, but also efficient in reducing turnaround time and cost.

5. Create a Written Policy for Drug Tests and Use

It can be difficult to keep up with changes in the drug industry and popular drug trends. It can be even more difficult to identify which may impact your business. Make it routine practice to work with your legal team to identify potential risks in your current hiring and onboarding processes. Additionally, seek legal counsel to create language to include in your company’s employee handbook regarding the use of controlled and uncontrolled substances. In doing so, you will have provided clear boundaries to your employees and created a safety net for your company. 

If you find yourself in a situation like the one mentioned at the start of this article, consult your legal team to identify a solution to reduce risk to your organization. Although drug testing cannot always guarantee you will be free of dealing with an unfortunate situation, implementing these best practices can lessen your risk and help you create a more efficient drug testing process for your organization.

 *The information provided above is strictly for educational purposes. It is not intended to be legal advice, either expressed or implied. Accurate Background recommends that you consult with your legal counsel regarding all employment regulations. 


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