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Fighting the Recession Blues with Random Drug Testing

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					               Fighting the Recession Blues with Random Drug Testing
                               By William F. Current

As the old joke goes… there’s good news and there’s bad news. Unfortunately, this is
not a joke. While economists recently announced that the recession that has gripped the
nation for months is officially over (if not in practical terms at least according to official
definitions) the federal government announced that substance abuse is up for the first
time in years.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced in
September that in 2009 approximately 21.8 million Americans aged 12 or older were
current or past month illicit drug users. That represents 8.7% of the population in that age
group, up from 8.0% the previous year. By employment status 8% of full-time workers,
11.5% of part-time workers and 17% of unemployed individuals were current drug users.

Is there a connection between hard times and increases in drug and alcohol abuse? Some
experts say yes. “Clearly, there are people who have struggled with anxiety, depression,
or substance abuse, and the economic crisis has made their problems worse,” Doug
Nemecek, MD, the national medical director for CIGNA Corporation, told Social Work
Today in the March/April 2009 issue. All the more reason for employers to not only
continue drug testing, but to maintain or implement random testing.

What Is Random Testing?
Random refers to the method by which employees are selected to be tested. Because
random tests are unannounced employees cannot predict when or if they will be selected
for a drug test. For this reason random testing is credited with having a high deterrent
effect, making it very popular for workplace drug testing. Random testing can be applied
to an entire employee population (universal) or limited to certain locations or groups of
employees (such as workers in safety-sensitive occupations).

The selection is typically computer generated and based on an annual frequency rate of a
percentage of the pool of employees subject to random testing. For example, an
employer may wish to test at a 50 percent “random frequency rate.” This means that if
there are 100 employees, the company will conduct 50 random selections during the year.
It does not mean that 50 different employees will be tested. Usually, all employees
subject to random testing are eligible to be selected each time names are selected by the
computer. No one knows when their name will be selected only that it could be... hence,
the deterrent effect.

With unemployment rates high pre-employment drug testing volumes typically drop, but
random testing is up according to some participants in the author’s annual survey of the
drug testing industry. “There’s a lot more post-employment screening activity in 2010…
more random selections,” one person said.

“We’ve been engaged in a lot more conversations with clients with more emphasis on
random testing,” said another. “Random testing is on the up tick. Clients are building
whole programs around random testing.”
9 Reasons to Consider Random Drug Testing
As more and more employers look for ways to ensure that their workplaces are drug-free
the following advantages of random testing are worth considering:

1.   It’s the most effective method for detecting drug users in the workplace.
2.   It’s non-discriminatory… it treats everyone fairly.
3.   It lifts the burden from supervisors when choosing who will be tested.
4.   The federal government requires it as a means of establishing safer highways,
     airways, and in other transportation environments.
5.   The U.S. military has been using it for more than 25 years with great success.
6.   Virtually every state in the country allows random testing, most without restrictions.
7.   It’s cost effective and easy to manage.
8.   It increases the overall effectiveness of a drug testing program thus improving an
     employer’s overall return on investment in drug testing.
9.   Drug users hate random testing.

Regarding that last point, in a 1990s survey of current illicit drug users who were
employed full time 40% admitted they were “less likely” to work for a company that
conducted random testing. Even though the survey is a little dated, the attitude of drug
users toward random testing has probably not changed much if at all.

Random Testing Saves Lives and Money
Let’s estimate the ROI value of random testing. We’ll start by determining the cost of
substance in the workplace using some very basic math. The U.S. Navy once estimated
that the average substance abusing employee costs his or her employer an extra $7,000
per year in lost productivity. Multiple that by the percentage of your company’s work
force that has a substance abuse problem… the national average is between 10-15%, but
let’s use 5% to be on the safe side. If you employ 500 workers then you have at least 25
substance abusers on your payroll costing your company approximately $175,000 per
year in lost productivity.

Now compare that to the cost of a random drug testing program. At a random testing
frequency rate of 20% per year (meaning you conduct 100 random tests annually… 20%
of 500) at a per test cost of $55.00 you’re spending $5,500 for random testing. If 5% of
your random tests turn out positive then you’ve successfully identified five substance
abusers who are costing you a total of $35,000 per year. At a cost of just $5,500 you’ve
saved nearly $30,000. And that doesn’t take into account the savings from deterring other
workers from using drugs.

Random drug testing is one of the smartest investments a company can make, especially
in economically challenging times.

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