Employee Drug Testing

January 1, 2010 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance


Because illicit drug use is a secretive activity, its extent among U.S. workers is difficult to estimate. A 2007 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that about 8% of full-time adult workers had used illegal drugs during the previous month. The percentage was highest among workers age 18 to 25 (19%), followed by 26- to 34-year-olds (11%), 35- to 49-year-olds (7%), and 50- to 64-year-olds (3%). The survey also found that about 6% of healthcare and social assistance workers had used illegal drugs during the previous month, and 4% reported heavy alcohol use. (SAMHSA)

According to the American Management Association’s most recent survey on workplace testing practices, about 62% of U.S. companies conduct drug testing of employees. This figure is down from 67% in 2001.

Many healthcare organizations conduct some type of drug testing for employees. In 1992, the American Hospital Association (AHA) issued guidelines on employee drug testing for healthcare facilities and recommended that healthcare organizations adopt a policy that includes preemployment testing, for-cause testing, and postaccident testing. AHA has not revised its guidelines since 1992.

Employee drug testing is a controversial topic for some organizations. A key issue is whether employee drug testing works and whether it is worth the cost. Proponents of employee drug testing claim that testing deters drug use, resulting in fewer missed workdays, increased productivity, improved employee morale, and reduced costs for employers; in addition, proponents believe that testing helps individuals with drug problems seek assistance (Levine and Rennie). The 2007 SAMHSA survey found that workers who had used drugs within the month before the survey reported that they were less likely to work for an employer that conducted preemployment or...

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