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Drug Testing: Is It Worth It?

I encourage the cross-posting of this material to general and local discussion groups and BBS’s, or wherever else you think it may do some good. In fact, I ask you to do so personally. Hang it up on the office bulletin board, if you have the guts to, and send a copy of via anonymous agent to the chairmen, CEOs, and policy makers of your company.

Testing for drugs in the work-place has become a very hot issue on USENET lately. Several groups have lengthy threads discussing the morality and/or civil liberties aspects of urinalysis. Usually these threads end up deadlocked between libertarian and more conservative viewpoints, as characterized by the following archetypical discussion:

Joe: Drug testing violates the individual’s rights to privacy, and that is that.
Bob: But the individual’s rights must be balanced against the good of society.
Bob: Uh HuhhhhhHHHHHhhhhhh.

Now, I am very inclined toward the libertarian standpoint, in that I think that anyone who doesn’t stand up for their rights now won’t have them much longer, but this is not what I want to argue right now. I could sit here and type until I was blue in the keyboard and it would not do any good because 68% of the people who will read this post believe that drug testing by employers is acceptable, and that is that is that.

What I want to do instead is to provide a second argument against drug testing which does not have its basis on ideological premises, but on sheer common sense coupled with rational wisdom.

It is actually a rather old set of arguments that have simply been overlooked and ignored, but you will be seeing a lot more of them soon, I would venture.

In the following, numbers in brackets [] indicate that the surrounding subject matter is drawn from one of the sources listed at the end of this post.

The basic argument which I will use can be summarized as follows:

Why do we drug test? ‘Simple,’ you say, ‘we drug test employees to make the work-place safer and prevent the waste which is associated with drug use. We drug test to discourage drug use and to find and treat drug users.’ But what if I were to tell you that there was no waste? What if I were to say that you should not worry about drug users, but it is only the drug abusers which need help? ‘Absurd,’ you say ‘everyone knows that drug use is America’s biggest problem: it costs billions of dollars a year in lost productivity.’

But does it?

And even if it does, will drug testing fix the problem?

It seems to me that these are some very important questions, the answers to which everyone seems to know. If you take a closer look at these questions, though, you may not find what you

With the following, I will demonstrate that:

  1. The “drug epidemic” does not pose the huge threat to public health and safety that some many claim.
  2. Currently legal drugs cause more problems than illicit drugs.
  3. Even if it were desirable to address casual drug use as a problem, urinalysis is not the way to do it.
  4. Urinalysis itself represents a counter-progressive social strategy, a colossal waste of our industrial resources, and does more harm to businesses than good.
  5. Stopping and/or monitoring work-place drug testing is everyone’s problem—both employers and employees must actively resist the drug testing industry, or at least be concerned enough to make sure that the industry plays fair and that the tests are applied fairly. (In this respect, NIDA officials should not own drug testing companies[], The PDFA should be required to back its claims with hard evidence[], more harmful drugs should be dealt with more severely—including legal drugs, etc.)

The So Called Crisis

Former President George Bush once claimed that use of illicit drugs cost society over sixty billion dollars annually. It is this claim that fueled the popular movement to install drug testing in the public work-place. However, the claim is false. The sixty billion dollar figure was arrived at from a study done by the Research Triangle Institute, which tallied the results of a survey of households. The survey found that the income of households in which any one member admitted having ever used marijuana, whether it was every day for the last four years or once in high school twenty years ago, was lower, on the average, than the households in which people claimed to have never used the drug.

The researchers, without considering external factors, defined this as economic loss due to marijuana use. Through a flimsy chain of extrapolation, which included adding the estimated costs of drug related crime, they arrived at a total figure of forty- seven million dollars.

The Bush administration liked this statistic a whole lot, because it supported the War on Drugs. They added an adjustment for inflation and other economic factors to get the sixty billion dollar figure, and then publicized this figure widely.

What the Bush administration didn’t say quite as loudly was that the RTI study also showed no economic loss for current and multi-drug users. Does this mean that people who quit using marijuana, or don’t use other drugs along with marijuana, are the real problem? Of course not, but it does show that the RTI study was flawed, and suggests that the whole estimate of drug- use related cost was a fluke[1].

Other studies which have purported to show that all drug users are bad workers, or tend to be in bad health, have been routinely shot down by the medical community[8][9][4][3][1][13]. Many of these studies have ended up in our newspapers and magazines, and as a result, Americans now actually believe that casual drug use is a threat in the work-place[1][2][3], even though no such study has been accepted by the scientific community. It is also unusual to note that not many studies have been done on successful drug users, and that when one is, it rarely gets into the daily papers, but remains in medical journals where only doctors and medical students get to see it[13].

The media has shown a definite anti-drug bias in reporting these studies, further warping the average American’s assessment of the actual situation of casual drug use[3]. To make matters worse, several times the media has played up accidents which may or may not have involved drugs as ’caused by drug use’[13]. When an accident occurs and the driver or pilot tests positive for drugs, the newspapers will jump right on the story. In almost all of these cases, other reasons are found for the accident—faulty equipment, alcohol use, etc.[3] In one case, the drug test which showed a train driver to be using marijuana was a false positive! By the time these things are found out, though, the damage has already been done.

From the standpoint of journalism, this reflects very poorly on the American media, which stands accused of sensationalism. From the standpoint of business, this makes a lot of sense: people are a lot more likely to want to read a front-page article about a train crash and how it might be the result of drug use. They are less likely to want to hear out a huge argument as to the actual cause of the accident. Since many people only read the first few articles in any particular news story, (and many only watch the news on television, or read the headlines and front page) they have been left with the impression that casual drug use represents some sort of huge crisis.

This impression has been communicated to their public officials and representatives, who have tried to defeat the ‘drug problem’ through laws and programs. In the case of the train driver mentioned above, the hysteria surrounding the crash resulted in the passing of an unprecedented budget for George Bush’s Drug War.

I would like to “press pause” on this discussion and pick it up later, so that some of the other aspects of drug testing can be discussed. This topic is further discussed below.

The Danger of a False Positive

No laboratory process is completely free from error—mistakes do happen. Even with today’s legal restrictions on the accuracy of employee drug testing, there is still a chance that non-drug users will “fail” a drug test. Failing a drug test—even if you pass another test later on—can have a lot of undesirable consequences[3].

If you were to fail drug test and claim innocence, you would be interviewed by a medical review official, an MRO, who would try to find out why you tested positive. During this interview, a lot of personal information is asked for. Some of this information might be passed on to your employer—including medical data which you may not want your employer to know![4][3]

What is worse, the regulations which control just how much of this information goes directly to your employer are currently under legislative ‘attack.’ Soon employers may receive negative test results directly[3].

Besides the suspicion which may be caused by a false positive, and the loss of privacy, there is another serious drawback to drug testing: loss of work. New, on-the-spot drug tests will make this a huge problem[4][3][14]. These tests are nowhere near as accurate as the standard urinalysis tests, but they are attractive to employers who worry about drug use because they provide immediate results[14]. Employers may want to “play it safe” by administering these tests, and sending anyone who fails them home until a more accurate drug test can be performed.

You do not have to be a drug user to dislike drug testing. Drug testing can hurt anyone, even if they are totally ‘innocent.’ This is wrong. Not only can workers lose money through lost hours, but the business itself can be hurt through lost productivity. Even worse, some people are bound to slip through the cracks and get fired. The worst time to have a false positive, though, is during the hiring process. Many employers will simply not hire you, if you test positive for drugs and will not even tell you why they didn’t[9].

Some Perturbing Questions About Drug Testing: Who Actually Gets Caught? Where Does The Danger Really Lie?

An estimated 65% to 90% of people who get caught on drug tests are caught for marijuana use[8][7]. This is due to two factors. First, the number of marijuana users is far greater than the number of cocaine or heroin users[2]. And second, marijuana is easier to detect than cocaine or heroin because it is the drug which leaves metabolites in your body the longest[2][16].

There is no doubt among the medical community that marijuana use presents less of a danger than cocaine or heroin use. Marijuana is not physically addictive[16][13][6] and it has never caused a single death by overdose [16]. Also, people who hardly ever use marijuana are being put on the same level as marijuana abusers and users and abusers of other drugs. A person can be denied employment or fired for using a single marijuana cigarette or smoking marijuana as much as a month ago—even if they were on vacation. New hair testing methods threaten to extend this to three or four months[12].

If the goal of work place drug testing is to discourage the use of harmful drugs, wouldn’t it make sense to punish drug users according to how much, how often, and how dangerous a drug they use instead of lumping them all together? (Supposing punishing the drug users was a good idea in the first place.)

Another disparity in our work-place drug control strategy is evident. Alcohol and tobacco are both widely used, but legal, drugs which have been linked beyond all doubt to accidents [3][8][9][16] and health problems [3][16]. If the goal of drug testing is to make the work-place safer, then why do we spend all this money, time and effort detecting drug use when we could be combatting addiction to alcohol and tobacco?

In fact, don’t we run the risk of promoting the use of less detectible drugs, or more harmful, but legal, drugs by adopting this ‘zero tolerance’ to casual marijuana use? Marijuana users who want to keep their jobs may switch to other drugs that are more dangerous to get their ‘highs.’

Drug Test As A Failed Strategy & Alternative Approaches

Countless studies have shown that drug users are capable of leading normal lives and holding normal jobs[13][16]. Drug testing keeps these people from competing in the work economy and that is *unfair*. These studies also point out that a drug user or drug addict is much more likely to be a constructive, contributing member of society if he has three things: 1) a job 2) a stable home and 3) access to his drug of choice legally and easily[13].

The third item on this list I will not get into, but it is easy to see how drug testing does not help addicts or users to help themselves. In fact, it does just the opposite, by denying them employment and limiting their income[9] it actually hurts the users’ chances of ever becoming stable, ordinary individuals. When deciding whether drug testing is a good idea, ask yourself this: Do I want healthy, employed, drug users who work full time jobs and participate in society—or—do I want desperate, unemployed drug users who spend their time on the streets looking for drugs, money, and trouble?

The answer is obvious, but what about work place impairment? Do we just stop checking to see if people are capable of doing their jobs? Rest assured, there are plenty of ways to tell if our pilots, drivers, mechanics, etc. are impaired. Most of them involve simple tests of hand-eye coordination and reflex[3]. In many ways, these tests are actually better than drug tests.

Video-game style tests can be administered cheaply on-the-spot. They not only detect those drug users who are not able to function, they also detect people who are drunk, tired, on medication, or otherwise not able to perform safely. Such tests can be administered daily and even hourly, which makes them more effective than drug testing[3].

Another alternative is to drug test, but instead of just firing drug users automatically, first determine the extent and danger of their drug use, and recommend a treatment program instead.

The So Called Crisis (Continued) And The Possibly Racist Implications of Drug Testing

A “post hoc fallacy” is a logical error commonly made in newspaper statistics. It involves assuming that one thing (drug use) causes another (accidents, poor job performance) because you are unaware of a third factor which causes both—a root cause. This third factor could be anything, but it is often referred to as a “confounding factor.”

The 1990 study of U.S. Postal Service workers is *the* study which the Department of Justice uses to justify the use of drug testing in the work-place[2], and the PDFA uses in many of their propaganda pieces, which often provide numbers for employers to call for information on how to set up drug testing programs[5]. The people who did this study themselves stipulate that it may be subject to confounding factors[8].

The most evident confounding factor is race. The sample in the study was 90.1% Caucasian and 8.9% minorities. However, Caucasians and minority workers did not test positive for drug use at the same rate. Of those testing positive for cocaine, for example, 83.6% were Caucasian and 16.4% were minority. This shows that minorities use drugs more than Caucasians. Previous studies have shown that minorities also were more likely to exhibit poor work-place performance, high accident rates, etc[1][8][9].

Whoa. Now hold up. Before I go one inch further I would like to clear something up. I am not saying that minority races are in any way inferior to Caucasians. I do not believe this. In fact, the very statistic which I just mentioned is probably a post hoc fallacy itself. The real correlation probably has more to do with poverty and education than anything else. Through no fault of their own, many minorities have been historically poor in this country. It is easy to see how a person who is poor might have more trouble on the job than a person who is wealthy—a poor person may be undernourished, under-slept, or may have just walked to work in the freezing cold. Likewise, a less educated person is more likely to make errors during complex tasks.

I am also definitely not saying that employers should refuse to hire the less educated and underprivileged. I am only saying that, if it is the goal of work-place drug testing to improve the work-place, it could be done much more cheaply by simply firing all of the minority workers. THERE ARE REASONS WHY THIS IS ILLEGAL. If employers were to be so inane as to fire all of their workers who were not rich college graduates, the overall situation in this country would deteriorate. Said employer would probably post better profits during the next economic quarter, but on his way out of the office, he would also stand a better chance of getting mugged. And he would deserve it!

However, this is what is being done, in effect, by work place drug testing. Work-place drug testing should be illegal by the very same token—firing drug users is counterproductive in the long run and is a strategy motivated mostly by hate and prejudice against the economically disadvantaged. In fact, because of the correlation between drug use and minorities, work place drug testing is working as a giant loophole in current anti-racist laws which allows employers to effectively fire minorities for what seems to be a totally unrelated reason. For this reason, it is fair to say that work-place drug testing is not only counterproductive to affirmative action, but is itself racist in effect. Given the recent concern over the racism, or at the very least effective or institutionalized racism, evident in the War on Drugs[15], I felt this point bore mention.

The U.S. Postal Service study did not check the living conditions or income levels of the workers to see if this represented a confounding factor. It also did not control for alcoholism and alcohol use[8][9]. The study claims to have adjusted itself for race, but the nature and extent of this adjustment are then called into question. Also, the study openly suggests the use of drug testing to screen out employees in high risk groups, like minorities—this is a violation of work place ethics and our country’s dedication to equal justice. However, the authors of the study state that the drug-use related damages are not as high as other past studies have reported, and that the cost efficiency of drug testing needs to be re-evaluated[8]. Why, then, is the study used by the Department of Justice as justification for workplace drug testing programs? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Costs of Drug Testing

Now that we have determined that drug testing is ineffective and possibly even harmful, one question remains. How much are we as Americans paying to shoot ourselves in the foot?

The revenue used to pay drug testing companies and laboratories comes from two main sources: private industry, and your tax dollar. Private donations to charitable organizations which promote or advertise drug testing must also be factored in.

One easy way to get a bottom line on the cost is to look at the gross revenues reported by the drug testing industry. In 1990, these amounted to $300,000,000[4]. Needless to say, this figure has gone up in the last two years as the drug testing industry has continued to expand, but the important thing to keep in mind is a large portion of the revenue going into the drug testing effort is given directly to laboratories [4] and public relations groups [5]. And so, this figure represents an absolute minimum. In reality, drug testing now costs us well over two billion dollars annually.

I must also mention that these dollar figures do not take into account the casualties and collateral damage inflicted on society by drug testing, which include job loss due to false positive, social injustice and the resulting violence, mistrust and alienation of employees, and loss due to time spent administering and processing drug tests. All in all, the whole scene is a huge mess.

The Selling of Drug Testing & Conflicts of Interest

Drug testing is sold to employers the same way a grocer might sell you a can of anchovies. It is advertised, packaged, and delivered for profit[4][13][14]. In order to get an employer to buy drug testing, various arguments are often made to make drug testing look like a good idea[4][5]. We have already seen how these arguments sometimes use government statistics. Incentives are sometimes offered to help the sale. These are usually arranged by the government or large, established organizations. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse established a toll- free help line to assist employers in establishing work-place drug testing programs.

Carlton Turner was once the United States’ drug czar (under Reagan.) After this, he became a very rich man as an advisor for drug testing companies. His partner, Peter Bensinger is a former head of the National Institute on Drug Awareness. Another partner was Robert Dupont, also a former NIDA director. Former White House drug advisor Donald MacDonald now owns Employee Health Programs, which contracts MROs to drug testing programs.

It is easy to see how the connections and authority which these people have held could have been used in self interest. This presents an ethical dilemma. It is very possible for such power to be abuse. I am not saying that all of these people are consciously aware that they are mining a vein of fear at the expense of the American public, but the possibility certainly exists.

(The ethics of Carlton Turner, however, are most definitely poor. In 1986 he was forced to resign from his post in the Reagan Administration. Before he became U.S. Drug Czar, he tried to sell fake ‘paraquat detectors’ to marijuana smokers through the magazine High Times, which could have injured or killed many people. Before this, he was purposefully obstructive in his role as the director of the University of Mississippi Marijuana Research Program, denying many sick individuals good medicine. In fact, it was Carlton Turner who started the unsubstantiated rumor—an “Urban Legend”—that marijuana made your immune system break down, when he stated in public addresses that smoking marijuana caused homosexuality *and* AIDS[16].)


The above has shown that the reasons which we give for drug testing are not in fact the reasons we drug test. Drug testing would not fix the problems of casual drug use in the work-place even if they do exist (and there is much doubt as to that)—at least, not as effectively as other approaches. The actual driving force behind drug testing is nothing more than an ideology—one which might not even be yours! [3]

So, if you test your applicants or employees for drugs, you are getting bilked. That man with the plastic cup is not helping, he is simply making a profit off of your prejudice. You have most likely turned down many potentially good employees who use drugs in favor of less talented and qualified applicants who do not[13].

If you allow yourself to be drug tested, you are participating in the drug testing industry by contributing to their business. Every time you piss in a cup, you are pissing on all the people who live in this country who use drugs—including many of your friends and relatives, possibly even your self. Every time you pay your taxes, you are likewise contributing to this Drug War juggernaut.

The drug testing industry is a colossal waste. If you want an improved America, you will have to stand up and say ‘NO’ to the War on Drugs, as hard as that may be.

What Should Be/Can Be/Is Being Done To Remove Or Regulate Work-Place Urinalysis

Can we make urinalysis illegal, or restrict its use in the work place?

Here is where the libertarian viewpoint which I mentioned in the introduction (Joe) *sometimes* does a strange flip-flop. I have seen many argue that it is within the rights of an employer to drug test for on-the-job drug use on the basis of liberty—if they want to be stupid and fire creative and productive employees that is their business. If you believe this, then you might as well skip the rest of this section, as it will not interest you—about the only thing I can say to you is that things are going to get worse before they get better: More expensive and accurate hair testing methods detect off-the-job drug use further into the past[12], and unenforced guidelines for drug testing accuracy[3][4] and the institution of spot-check tests[4][14] threaten to allow the work place drug testing situation to deteriorate to the point where you can be kept off the work force pending official dismissal of a false positive result[3][4].

A lot can be done to resist the application of urinalysis and the drug testing industry in general. One of the easiest things, and the first thing which must be done, is to convince others that urinalysis is not appropriate. Urinalysis is applied today mainly because Americans agree that it is important[2][3]. If it were to lose its popular support it would go away—eventually.

For those of you who are not willing to wait around for that, there are a few more direct actions which you can take. One of them is to write letters to community leaders, and to write editorials to local newspapers and to magazines. If you have had a bad experience with work place drug testing, tell it to a journalist. If not, the attached sources should provide you with plenty of “ammunition” for an editorial or three.

Another is to threaten boycott or other economic sanction against companies who administer drug testing. This involves keeping a watch on which companies do and do not drug test. If you have access to e-mail on the Internet, there is a project which does this, and you can help. Sending an e-mail message to with the pattern “Send list” in the subject line will return you a copy of the Great Usenet Piss Test List. Please get a copy and register your company and any other company you know about with the list, whether they do or do not perform urinalysis.

There are a number of protests which can be effective against work place urinalysis—strikes, picketing, etc. The key to making any of these tactics work is publicity. Nobody will benefit if you risk your employment, health, or well-being and do not make it into a huge event—so if you try any of these tactics, well, first, let me compliment you on your character and bravery, but secondly and most importantly milk it for all the attention you can get.

Of course, the most effective method of fighting is to get a large group, or a few crucial employees, to refuse to take the tests. Again, I urge an active effort at gaining publicity for your protest.


Sources marked with a star (*) I highly recommend obtaining a copy of and reading. Many of these sources have been excerpted to quite some extent below, painstakingly by hand, especially those more recent. I did so because I feel that they hold important ideas and information which will benefit the general public. Please read them.

I would like to close by remarking that both the quantity and quality of articles like those which I have recommended has surged recently. The medical and sociological communities are experiencing more input on this subject than ever before. Whether this is due to increased interest or simply a warmer political climate, I don’t know, but it seems that the dominant opinions may not be quite that dominant anymore. To me this is good news.

Much credit for this bibliography goes to Aaron Wilson, Vice President of the UMASS Cannabis Reform Coalition

[1] (*) SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, March 1990, p 18. ‘Science and the Citizen: Test Negative’ by John Horgan

What underlies the broad acceptance of [drug testing]? One factor may be the alarming statistics cited by testing advocates to demonstrate high costs of drug abuse. Examination of some of these claims suggests that they do not always accurately reflect the research on which they are based.

Last Year President George Bush declared that “drug abuse among American workers costs businesses anywhere from $60 billion to $100 billion a year in lost productivity, absenteeism, drug-related accidents, medical claims, and theft.” All such claims are derived from a single study, one that “was based upon assumptions that need additional validation,” according to an assessment last year from NIDA.

The study grew out of a survey […] by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) in 1982. The RTI group found that the average income of households with at least one person who admitted to having ever used marijuana daily was 28 percent lower […]. The RTI researchers defined the difference in income as “loss due to marijuana use”; the total loss, when extrapolated to the entire population, came to $26 billion. The researchers then added on the estimated costs of drug-related crime to arrive at a total of $47 billion for “costs to society of drug abuse.” This figure—”adjusted” to account for inflation and population increase—represents the basis of Bush’s statement.

The RTI survey included questions on current drug use […] there was no significant difference between the income of households with current users of any illegal drug […] and the income of otherwise similar households. Does this mean that current use of even hard drugs—as opposed to perhaps a single marijuana binge in the distant past—does not lead to any “loss”?

Perhaps the study most publicized of late by testing proponents involves employees of the U.S. Postal Service.

This study may be distorted by more subtle biases—minority postal workers tested positive at a much higher rate than non-minority workers and that previous studies have shown minorities to have higher absenteeism.

[2] BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS NATIONAL REPORT, “Drugs, Crime, and the Justice System” *December 1992*, *U.S. Department of Justice*

CHAPTER III, SECTION 4. Drug testing

Work-place drug testing aims to reduce or prevent drug use and impairment. The APT Foundation notes that the prime goal of work-place testing is to enhance on-the-job safety and productivity by reducing drug-related impairment.


A study of pre-employment urinalysis results and employment outcomes for 2,500 postal workers found …
[see 1 above, and 8 and 9 below]

[3] (*) JOURNAL OF ADDICTIVE DISEASES, Vol 12(2) 1993 pp. 9-21 “Barbarians at the Gates” by Stanley Gitlow, M.D.

…President Reagan signed Executive Order #12564 establishing the goal of a “drug free” work-place. It made federal employment illegal for anyone using illicit drugs on or off the job. By december 1989, over 5 million Americans required urine testing … in order to keep their jobs. … The acceptance of such procedures in the work- place resulted in their application to non mandated employees as well; this resulted in the testing of 8 million workers in 1989. This figure was to rise to 13 million during 1990.

In the meantime, the public had been frightened by stories of drunken pilots, pot smoking railroad engineers, and nonfunctional captains of oil tankers. … the terrified American people have leaned progressively toward demanding that their government guarantee each of them the right to live without responsibility for self or personal risk. In point of fact, during the past ten years only two commercial aviation crashes led to the discovery of illicit drug use by the flight crews: in March of 1983 a cargo aircraft crashed during the night at Newark and both pilots revealed previous use of THC, and in January of 1988 Continental Express flight #2286 crashed near Durango, CO while the non-flying pilot-in-command had evidence of cocaine. In neither incident did the NTSB establish a causal relationship between illicit drug use and the accidents. Nonetheless, within a year of the latter accident almost all of commercial aviation in the United States was mandated to apply tests of employees designed to rule out illicit drug use.

by the Spring of 1988 the government had completed 30,300 random urine tests of their regular employees. Positive results … were found in 0.7%. The direct costs for the first year were $15,000,000 …

Until recently, only testing for the 5 drugs [or categories] were allowed under law. This, despite the fact that the
relationship of alcohol … to accidents had been more clearly established and the magnitude of this problem in the area of public safety was far and away greater …

our government quite apparently felt more comfortable writing highly restrictive legislation for “illicit drugs”
despite the fact that the magnitude of the public health problem was minor in comparison to that associated with alcohol.

the MRO finds him/herself in the position of having to reveal to employers and federal authorities certain other
medical data which happened to be revealed in the course of the urine assay, *even though having no connection whatever to the use of “illicit” drugs*. …

Sadly, it is not incumbent upon any employer to recommend treatment for an employee with a positive test for “illicit” drugs … Some MRO’s embrace the whiz quiz in the belief that it offers early detection and therapy, but in truth the overwhelming majority of companies that become aware of a positive test simply discharge the employee at the present time. …

The commercial transport system data reveal a statistically minuscule incidence of what appears to be drug related accidents. … If any threat to safety in the work-place existed, all of our information pointed to the need to control drinking. …

A DOT study in May of 1988 stated repeatedly “No statistical conclusions regarding the relationship between drug use and…accidents were possible.” And there were “…no relevant performance studies of any of the hard drugs…[but this is] *not critical because use is already a criminal act. … the very fact that an individual uses such a drug indicates a lack of respect for the law that in itself is prejudicial to safety.” So ended the major scientific study which led to regulation by the DOT.*

A well-known physician from Charter Corporation was quoted on 5/26/89 in American Medical News that he favored urine testing because it led to earlier diagnosis and increased likelihood of recovery from addiction. … even were it to be true, he failed to mention whether his country should switch immediately to *mandated* PAP smears and mammogram.

our concern is neither health maintenance nor safety, but rather morality and control. If we were not primarily concerned with fixing those “nonconformists’ ” wagons, we might have embraced the use of cognitive systems
measurements instead of the whiz quiz. There exists hand – eye coordination tests not unlike those of some video games, by which real time measurements of the functional capacities of key employees may be assayed and have been found to detect reliably various forms of human impairment [resulting from drugs, stress, and fatigue]. The test results were immediately available [real time]. Nonetheless the DOT safety study dismissed such tests because they cannot predict the presence of a precise drug or drug level; they did not even evaluate its potential for safety. Gary Howard, the Employee Relations Director of Motorola Inc., when questioned about the use of neuromuscular real time tests, was quoted recently as saying that they were not even considered and that even if a drug user were not impaired from off-duty use of drugs, “We’re not particularly concerned about impairment … as we are about having a work force that doesn’t use drugs.” R=82 their desire to use best-in-class employees, “Best-in-class people to us don’t use drugs. They don’t abuse alcohol either…” … Even in those instances wherein a causal relationship between a drug and an adverse consequence has been proven [alcohol and accidents; cigarette smoking and lung cancer], there is good reason to eschew outright legal prohibition. … Loss of liberties by law, momentarily accepted by society, leads ultimately to a reactive change. We seem to “pay” for periods in which we even voluntarily give up our freedoms. A more definitive answer is usually achieved by early education and experience leading to attitudinal change.

[4] (*) CONTEMPORARY DRUG PROBLEMS, Spring 1992 pp. 1-26, “The business of drug testing: technological innovation and social control” by Prof. Lynn Zimmer and Prof. James B. Jacobs.

This expansion of work-place drug testing could not have occurred without important advances in drug testing
technology. …

In an important sense, it was the availability of the new technologies that stimulated employers’ interests in workers’ drug use. Prior to the 1980’s, to the extent employers thought about a “work-place drug problem,” their concern was with alcoholics and drug addicts, not casual drug users. Only after it became possible to detect casual users did employers begin to focus on them. Thus drug testing should not be seen as a “technological fix” for a preexisting problem, but as a technological innovation that helped redefine the problem it initially promised to solve.

The redefinition of the work-place drug problem to include casual drug users did not just “happen.” It was actively promoted by the drug testing industry, which stood to profit from it, and by the federal government, which had a powerful commitment to a zero-tolerance drug policy. The media also contributed by publishing the economic costs and physical threats posed by drugs in the work-place.

Improvements in drug testing’s accuracy and reliability led more employers to implement testing programs; as demand expanded, so did the drug-testing industry. Recent (1990) estimates are that drug testing grosses over $300 million a year, but this figure refers only to the equipment and chemicals produced by pharmaceutical companies. Drug testing’s increased popularity also benefits laboratories that conduct the tests as well as numerous other businesses that provide goods and services to the pharmaceutical companies, the laboratories, and employers.

Recently pharmaceutical companies also began to market on- site testing kits that do not require any machinery. Keystone Diagnostics’ KDI Quick Test, for example, selling for $6.50, uses a modified immunoassay technology that allows drugs to be identified through a color-code system. Lacking both the sensitivity and specificity of automated immunoassay, testing kits are unlikely to capture a large segment of the work-place testing market, but they might appeal to parents who wish to test their children for illicit drugs.

By 1988 employment drug tests accounted for about 5% of the laboratory industry’s $5 billion in revenues, and industry experts expected that figure to double the following year.

The federal government remains committed to work-place drug testing as a strategy in the war on drugs, and Congress keeps expanding the number of private sector workers who are covered under federal guidelines. The drug-testing industry vigorously markets its product to employers, and through the American Drug Use Testing Association it lobbies at the state and federal levels for legislation that will expand its markets. With many organizations, drug testing has become institutionalized, with administrative, legal, and medical staff who now have a stake in its perpetuation. Thus whether or not it delivers on its promises to employers, drug testing is likely to remain a common feature of the American work-place and to play an even more important role in the long search for effective social controls over the use of psychoactive drugs.

[5] THE NEW YORK TIMES, July 7th 1993. Advertisement by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, (these advertisements are donated at a cost of around $17,000 a piece to the PDFA by the New York Times, I am told. No source is presented for the claims that follow.)

“Drugs can devastate your small business. Illegal drug users are absent more frequently than other workers.”

“They file more insurance claims, they cause injuries on the job, and they’re less productive.”

“You lose. Your employees lose. Your customers lose.”

“You can’t afford drug abuse. You *can* afford to do something. Drugs Don’t Work.”

[a telephone number is given for concerned employers to call.]

[6] “Behavioral and Biological Concomitant of Chronic Marijuana Use” U.S. Army study, 1974 by Dr. Jack H. Mendelson. Official summary as quoted in CONTEMPORARY DRUG PROBLEMS (Volume and date unknown, but it is on page 449.)

The behavioral and biological concomitant of chronic marijuana use were studied in a group of heavy and casual users under controlled research ward conditions. Assessments of operant work performance revealed that most subjects showed no impairment in motivation to work for money reinforcement even when they smoked a large number of marijuana cigarettes. Some dose related decrement in performance was noted following days of heavy marijuana smoking. However, these decrements were probably not biologically significant. No changes were observed in a large series of physical and laboratory assessments following marijuana smoking. The only significant changes were those related to vital capacity (lung function) and these changes may be more closely related to the processes of smoking per se than to the pharmacological actions of marijuana. No changes in testosterone level were observed following chronic marijuana smoking. Significant weight gain was associated with marijuana smoking. Marijuana also appeared to influence a number of complex social and psychological factors associated with personal interaction. No evidence was obtained that marijuana produces any significant adverse effects on cognitive or neurological function.

[7] (a newspaper article which has been clipped with no reference appended—I will try to find the reference if anyone is interested. JPM is the source of the 90% marijuana positive estimate.) TESTING EMPLOYEES FOR DRUGS By Barbara Presley Noble.

“It is a sacred cannon of belief of the urine testers that drug users have higher accident rates, increased rates of litigation and medical claims,” said Dr. John P Morgan, a professor of pharmacology at the City University of New York Medical School. “The claims are always stated. They are simply not documented.”

Dr. Morgan, who is writing an academic review of research on work place drug testing, said most people who test positive for drugs are occasional marijuana users. “No data indicate they are bad workers. They are no different than anyone else,” he said.

[8] JAMA, November 28, 1990 Vol 264(20) pp. 2639-2643 “The Efficacy of Pre-employment Drug Screening for Marijuana and Cocaine in Predicting Employment outcome.”

We recognize that a number of potential confounding factors might be associated both with the risk variables of marijuana and cocaine use and with the outcome variables of turnover, absenteeism, accidents, injuries, and discipline. Potential confounders included age at hire, gender, race, job classification, smoking status, exercise habits and alcohol use or abuse.

Demographic Characteristics Negative Marijuana Cocaine Other

Sex M 65.7% 73.7% 60.0% 65.9%
F 34.3% 26.3% 40.0% 34.1%

Race White 90.1% 88.4% 83.6% 90.9%
Black 5.6% 11.1% 16.4% 7.3%
Asian 4.4% 0.5% 0.0% 1.8%

Smoker 30.7% 47.7% 40.0% 45.4%
Non-smoker 69.3% 52.3% 60.0% 54.6%

In our study, we have not been able to control for the possible confounding effect of alcoholism. A substantial body of literature suggests that alcohol abuse correlates with the abuse of other substances. Other literature suggests that alcoholics have poor employment outcomes. We did not obtain alcohol levels in the test urine samples. Also, we did not administer any validated alcoholism questionnaires because we did not think they would provide accurate information in the context of a pre-employment examination. …

The findings of this study suggest that many of the claims cited to justify pre-employment drug screening have been exaggerated. Drug users have been reported to be involved in 200% to 300% more industrial accidents, to sustain 400% more compensatable injuries, and to use 1500% more sick leave. We found that those with marijuana positive urine samples have 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries, and a 78% increase in absenteeism. For those with cocaine-positive urine samples, there was a 145% increase in absenteeism and an 85% increase in injuries. These findings could be used to reevaluate … the cost-effectiveness of pre-employment drug screening.

[9] JAMA, November 28, 1990 Vol 264(20) pp 2676-2677 “Pre- employment Drug Screening” by Eric D. Wish, Ph.D

factors suggest that pre-employment drug testing may have limited potential in the United States. First, employers should remember that a single positive urine test provides limited information about a particular employee’s level of drug use. … Furthermore, lifestyle issues may contribute to an employee’s drug use as well as to his or her poor job performance. Unfortunately, a medical review officer-type review is not required for firms testing private sector employees, and job applicants may be denied positions on the basis of a single positive test result, without their knowledge and without the right of appeal.

[10] THE NATION September 24 pg. 300 BELTWAY BANDITS by David Cobs

War Profiteering. Back in June, before Saddam Hussein was even a glint in the eyes of depressed military contractors, entrepreneur Max Franklin, a former analyst for I.B.M., placed an ad in DEFENSE NEWS, a trade weekly. “The arsenal of Democracy Won the Cold War,” the copy read. “Can it Win the Drug War?” To find out, readers were invited to attend a three-day conference featuring officials from the Pentagon, Congress and government agencies who would detail “Industry Opportunities” arising from the $10.6 billion anti-drug budget. “Can you afford to miss it?” Franklin’s add asked.

About 200 representatives of aerospace and computer companies decided they could not—not even at the cost of $950 a person.

[11] MASSACHUSETTS LAW REVIEW, Spring 1990 pp 38-42, “Search and Seizure—Drug Testing” by David A. Grossbaum

[12] (*) ADDICTION 88, pp 163-166 1993; “Hair analysis for drugs: technological breakthrough or ethical quagmire?” by John Strang, Joseph Black, Andrew Marsh, & Brian Smith

While it may be politically attractive to concentrate on illicit drugs, it ignores the reality that it is the use of alcohol and nicotine and not illicit drugs which constitutes the greatest threat to safety and productivity in the work place. The resources used in drug screening programmes might usefully be redirected towards education and rehabilitation based initiatives which address all the issues surrounding the use of drugs and alcohol in the work- force. Directing resources towards the new and expensive technology of hair analysis is a retrograde step.

[13] (*) THE MILBANK QUARTERLY, Vol 69, No 3, 1991 pp 437-459 “Social Behavior, Public Policy, and Non-harmful Drug Use” by Charles Winick

One conclusion of the literature on mood-modifying drugs like heroin and cocaine is that their regular nonmedical use will almost inevitably lead to bleak personal and social outcomes. My article suggests that the conventional picture of uniformly negative consequences of regular drug use is not supported by the data.

in a statewide study of all the narcotics addicts who could be located in Kentucky … more than nine-tenths of the males receiving drugs legally were working effectively at established occupations. An improvement in work pattern typically followed an addict’s securing a stable drug source, suggesting that this facilitated or caused improved work situation.

One ophthalmic surgeon noted: “With Demerol, I can do three or four perfect operations a day. It builds up my resistance and makes it easier for me to concentrate when I am working double shifts and just couldn’t keep up with it. The drug help a lot.” A trumpeter said: “With the heroin, I could feel and look cool and reach and hold the sound I wanted.” A warehouse worker stated: “It’s a very slow and long day, taking plumbing parts out of bins. Without the drugs, I couldn’t make it.” A television cameraman observed: “I can’t make a mistake on the job. I work a lot of overtime and the drugs make it easier for me to concentrate.” No doubt other factors in the lives of these study subjects contributed to the relatively prosaic character of their drug habit and enhanced their ability to work: licit occupations, structured schedules, and participation in conventional family and community activities.

William S. Halstead, the father of modern surgery and a founder of Johns Hopkins Medical School, was cocaine dependent until the age of 34, when he turned to morphine, on which he probably remained continually dependent until his death at age 70. He was professionally active and medically creative during his whole life.

There are no reports demonstrating that addicted physicians are more likely to commit malpractice than others. Indeed, the country’s largest program for addicted medical professionals reports that a physician’s professional activities represent the last aspect of his or her life to be affected by drug dependence. Drug-using physicians typically have successful and active primary care practices … some addicted physicians were described as “the best doctor in town”

A 46-year-old practical nurse was observed driving his fairly new car to a Harlem crack house while parking his other car near his co-op apartment. … Among the other regular users at the crack house were social workers, a maintenance man, and other healthy looking people with conventional jobs.

Upper-income users may find it easier to get drugs fromOB physicians and powerful people could have access that is not possible for others. Narcotics Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger, the leading foe of narcotics maintenance, secretly authorized the use of maintenance for specific persons on a number of occasions. Thus, in the 1950’s he maintained influential United States Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, who was a political ally, on morphine for years.

Studies in different societies, both economically advanced and underdeveloped, and involving a range of substances, have documented the use of habituating drugs by persons who are effective workers.

An investigation in Thailand found that some hill tribes reported that opium enabled them to function and it was not unusual to see a villager who had been addicted for 30 to 40 years and was still working actively.

In Jamaica, where ganja plays a significant role in social and economic life, the drug often facilitates the accomplishment of work by individuals and groups. … users generally feel that ganja enhances their ability to work by promoting strength and stamina. Supervisors agreed that the ganja helps workers in the arduous job of reaping sugar cane.

Dutch cocaine users not only used it while functioning effectively on the job, but typically worked while under the influence. American observers at national meetings of the Dutch “junkie union” have been surprised at seeing members injecting heroin and then chairing the meetings with facility and skill.

A report by a British investigator concluded that a substantial proportion of the addicts receiving heroin at English clinics in the late 1960’s could be characterized as stable, with high employment, legitimate income, and no hustling.

Other cultures provide clues that, without repressive laws, adult users may be able to regulate their own behavior and decide for themselves what constitutes appropriate use. The Dutch study of cocaine users, for example, demonstrated that a significant proportion of the samples experienced periods of increasing use. For others, cocaine use became so problematic that they abstained, either for long periods of time or entirely. So long as our government policy is based upon the assumption that nonmedical drug use is destructive, we cannot develope substantial knowledge of the factors that enhance such effective self-regulation of use.

[14] JOURNAL OF ADDICTIVE DISEASES Vol 12(2) 1993 pp 43-56 “Laboratory Tests for Rapid Screening of Drugs of Abuse in the Work-place” by Richard H. Schwartz, MD; H. Westly Clark, MD; and Patricia S. Meek, PhD

ABSTRACT: The use of rapid, on-site drug detection devices is reviewed. These tests permit the detection of various psychoactive substances in urine, and are easily used by nonskilled personnel … The tests have potential use in the emergency room, doctor’s office, drug treatment program, and the work place. …

[15] U.S.A. Today side-bar, and a front page article, also in U.S.A Today on the last week of July, entitled “Is the War on Drugs Racist?” (eventually I will find an exact reference for this one, too.)


Powder Crack
Amount Cocaine Cocaine
5 grams Probation 5 years
50 grams 1 year 10 years
500 grams 5 years 11 years
5,000 grams 10 years 17.5 years

Note: defendants serve 85% of sentence. There is *no* parole.


Powder Crack
Cocaine Cocaine
Black 27.1% 91.5%
White 32.1% 3.0%
Hispanic 39.9% 5.3%
Other 0.9% 0.2%

[16] (*) “Official Corruption: Carlton Turner” (pp 84,85) and other chapters in “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”; HEMP/Queen of Clubs pub. by Jack Herer

Posted by A. Shapiro
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