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Talking Points: Drug Testing is Job-Based Discrimination

Drug testing does not protect public safety. It serves mainly to identify and ban cannabis consumers from the workforce, or sanction them at the workplace or schools.

Drug Testing primarily targets people who use marijuana, as the other drugs which are tested dissipate very quickly. Marijuana may remain detectable for up to 90 days -- long after the effects are felt. Often people who have never done any drugs will fail a drug test as a result of false positives and inaccuracies within the testing industry itself.

Drug testing has nothing to do with impairment and everything to do with discrimination and is a violation of our human rights.

Potential ramifications of drug testing are loss of jobs or reputation, loss of benefits and pensions, loss of custody of children, denial of transplants, and revocation of probation or parole &emdash; landing more people in jail (thus, increasing the prison industrial system).

The National Academy of Sciences formed the Committee on Drug Use in the Workplace -- a team of nationally recognized experts -- to study the effectiveness of drug testing. They spent three years collecting, studying and synthesizing every significant study on the impact of drug use in the workplace. It was published in book form in 1994 as Under the Influence: Drugs and the American Workforce. Much of the information in this report was derived from this study.

Employers have relied on information provided by drug testing promoters who have an inherent conflict of interest on the topic. Drug Testing products and services are now a multi-billion dollar industry which rely on the magnification of the severity of drug-related problems in the workplace and extolling the benefits of drug testing as a solution. They market drug testing with the promise that they will improve productivity and profits. They use bogus studies to arrive at estimates of "costs of lost productivity." The Research Triangle Institute researchers "found no difference in the annual incomes of households with and without current marijuana users or with users of other drugs."

According the American Management Association, only 8 percent of companies with drug testing programs had performed any cost-benefit analysis.

The NAS stated, " the data…do not provide clear evidence of the deleterious effects of drugs other than alcohol on safety and other job performance indicators."

Researchers found that workers testing positive at the time of hire were no more likely than workers testing negative to become involved in an accident. The NAS claimed," Illicit drugs contribute little to the overall rate of industrial accidents." This is because most workers who use illicit drugs never use them at work. And, when they do so, it is in a way that does not affect their work performance.

In comparing the residual effect of occasional off-duty stimulant use, they found it to be no more profound than the effects that occur following "sleep deprivation in the absence of drug use."

Moderate use of illicit drugs by workers during off-duty hours was no more likely than moderate off-duty alcohol use to compromise workplace safety.

Drug testing does not test impairment.

As a result, drug tests mainly identify drug users who may have used a drug on the weekend, as they might use alcohol, and who are not under the influence of a drug while at work or when tested. It takes several hours for drug metabolites to appear in urine, so drug tests may miss drug users who are under the influence of drugs at the time the test is given.

Using the Kaiser Permanente data, researchers found no significant differences between health care costs for marijuana users to non-users.

Drug testing deters highly qualified workers from applying. They may be users who do not want to give up their use, or people who are opposed to giving up their privacy, or are civil libertarians. Many employers in high tech industries have discontinued drug testing programs as they limit their ability to hire qualified workers.

Drug testing programs impact morale and job satisfaction finding urine collection to be "degrading and demeaning" and humiliating.

At the time of collection, workers fill out a form to reveal personal information about medications they may be taking. This information can be used against them even for legally prescribed medications.

Firms with pre-employment testing, compared with [High tech] firms with no drug testing at all, scored 16 percent lower on productivity measures. "Companies that relate to employees positively with a high degree of trust are able to obtain more effort and loyalty in return."

Alternatives to Drug Testing

Rather than submit a person to drug testing, why not use the traditional method of checking references to find out about an potential employee?

Supervisors need to be trained to identify, confront, or refer impaired employees to Employee Assistance Programs or other intervention programs.

Impairment testing not only detects people who are impaired by drugs and alcohol, but also by sleep deprivation stress, fatigue, emotional problems including anxiety, sickness or other health problems, over-the counter medications, prescription medications, or those who are otherwise not able to perform safely. Impairment due to illicit drugs is statistically much less likely than impairment from other factors. These tests, once administered, can improve safety far better than drug tests can. They are not discriminatory. Rather, they measure everyone equally by their performance which is the most significant factor in employment.

Denying an addict employment through drug testing is also a sure way to keep him or her using drugs and alcohol (making the addicts life more unbearable with jail time, monetary fines, criminal records, and reducing odds of improving life).

There is a growing number of people who will suffer when they are falsely labeled drug users by the inaccuracies of drug testing. People will unjustly be denied a driver's license, evicted from their homes, and be denied their rights and government benefits

Anybody being treated for depression, anxiety, heart disease, ulcers, insomnia, diabetes, or high blood pressure may be 'screened out' and denied employment as a result of drug testing. This has nothing to do with marijuana use. It is related to the medical information gathered at the drug testing site.

Contamination on glassware has been shown to cause a 3 to 5 percent false positive rate.

The majority of labs don't follow any guidelines Their accuracy rate is about 82%.

The bulk of errors could be attributed to inadequate personnel, poor management, broken chain of custody, faulty maintenance, and faulty transmissions of reports and records, rather than the tests themselves. No government or industry agency is responsible for monitoring the quality of work done at these labs.

The false positive rate has been shown to vary widely from 0.8 to 60%. Despite having a 4-34% false positive rate, the EMIT has been the most widely used immunological assay for detection of drugs of abuse in urine. Back up tests are only required for federal employees. More sophisticated tests require more training of lab technicians. Inadequately trained techs cause more false positives.

Most drugs, including cocaine and marijuana, bind and incorporate into the hair of African Americans 10 to 50 times greater than drugs are incorporated into the hair of Caucasians. Hair testing is extremely poor at identifying current drug use because the maximum amount of drug is deposited one to two months after drug use and is often not detectable until weeks after use. Hair can be contaminated by second-hand smoke. People have reported testing positive up to six months after use in hair testing!

This is unreasonable search and seizure, threatening the 4th amendment protections against such abuse. This treats people like they are guilty until proven innocent, reversing the presumption of innocence which is the basis of our democratic society. Drug testing also makes individuals lose all control over who has access to their confidential medical information.

Marijuana tests positive 14 to 30 days after use.

Discriminates against medical marijuana patients.

If it is inaccurate and it does not test for impairment or performance, then what good is it? If impairment is really a concern, there is a far less expensive, accurate, computerized, performance test available, which would test for that.

Drug War Facts: A congressional committee estimated that the cost of each positive in governmental testing was $77,000.

Since drug tests test for marijuana, it may cause people to use harder drugs that go through the system faster (like alcohol and LSD that are not tested)

Enployers may lose workers from false positives that could be attributed to common foods, over-the counter preparations, and prescription medications.

In a famous drug testing study, employees who tested positive at Georgia Power had a higher promotion rate than the company average, and workers that tested positive only for marijuana were absent 30% less often than the average.

Th drug testing industry is comprised of manufacturers of equipment and chemicals, laboratories, medical review officers, consultants, and lobbyists.

Insurance companies use "after accident" tests to deny people benefits.

Despite the fact that alcohol is the most prevalent drug causing work related accidents and that alcohol addiction is much more costly to employers than all illicit drugs combined, the focus is on illicit drugs in the workplace.

There is no differentiation between responsible use and abuse.

People call us regularly, complaining that despite a commendable work record with years of responsible job performance, they are being fired and losing their pensions because of a drug test. This is not right. People are losing their jobs and pensions based on false positives. We know of a man who was sent back to prison for a year for eating a sandwich with poppy seed bread (without the courtesy of a re-test) which tested positive for opiates. Twenty years ago, the population was not subjected to this invasion of their privacy, and the workplace survived nicely. It is not necessary now. If an employer can not tell that someone is not performing their job, then they have no reason to test. The American people are supposed to live in a free country. We are not owned by our employers (that went out with slavery) or our schools, so we should not be subjected to this kind of "arbitrary interference" with our privacy. It is unconstitutional!

Just say "NO" to drug testing!

Questions and Answers about drug testing

Q: Don't employers have the right to expect their employees not to be high on drugs on the job?

A: Of course they do. Employers have the right to expect their employees not to be high, stoned, drunk, or asleep. Job performance is the bottom line: If you cannot do the work, employers have a legitimate reason for firing you. But urine tests do not measure job performance.

Q: If you don't use drugs, you have nothing to hide -- so why object to testing?

A: Innocent people do have something to hide: their private life. The "right to be left alone" is, in the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, "the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." Analysis of a person's urine can disclose many details about that person's private life other than drug use. It can tell an employer whether an employee or job applicant is being treated for a heart condition, depression, epilepsy or diabetes. It can also reveal whether an employee is pregnant. This can affect one's chances of getting hired or not.

Urine tests are body searches, and they are an unprecedented invasion of privacy. The standard practice, in administering such tests, is to require employees to urinate in the presence of a witness to guard against specimen tampering.

In the words of one judge, that is "an experience which even if courteously supervised can be humiliating and degrading." Noted a federal judge, as he invalidated a drug-testing program for municipal fire-fighters, "Drug testing is a form of surveillance, albeit a technological one."

Q: Are drug tests reliable?

A: No, the drug screens used by most companies are not reliable. These tests yield false positive results at least 10 percent, and possibly as much as 30 percent, of the time. Experts concede that the tests are unreliable.

References: Drug Testing: A Bad Investment (ACLU, 1999); Urine Trouble by Kent Hotorf, MD (1998)

FCDA / Family Council on Drug Awareness

PO Box 1716, El Cerrito, CA 94530 USA Phone / Fax: 510-215-8326 o www.fcda.org o chris@fcda.org

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