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Developing a Substance Abuse Testing Program

Workers impaired by drugs or alcohol can cause serious damage to your business in the form of increased absenteeism, lower productivity, higher health care costs, higher workers’ compensation claims, and more on-the-job injuries and accidents. In order to maintain a safe and productive work environment, employers should take action to stop substance abuse. A cornerstone of such an initiative is often a substance abuse testing program.

Creating a Testing Program

If your organization decides to implement a testing program, consider these recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) when creating and executing your efforts:

  • Determine the ultimate goal of your program and how it can benefit your organization and your employees.
  • Determine what drugs to test for. Commonly used drugs include alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, prescription drugs, PCP, heroin and ecstasy.
  • Determine what type of testing you will use.
  • Breath, saliva, urine and blood testing are most commonly used to test for drugs and alcohol.
    • NOTE: For federal agency employees, HHS only permits urine specimen testing for drugs, and saliva and breath specimen testing for alcohol.
  • Determine what testing procedures will be put into place.
    • Designate where employees need to go to provide specimens for testing. The site should be a suitable medical facility or testing unit.
    • The employee should be allowed to initiate the seal and properly label the specimen container.
    • If your facility is using a laboratory for testing, it must be certified by HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. There are approximately 30 U.S.-certified laboratories.
    • Laboratories must be familiar with the minimum level at which substances can be detected in the body and the quantity of drugs or alcohol in the system when screening urine specimens. This will enable them to determine whether a sample is positive or negative.
  • Determine when to test for drugs and alcohol in the workplace. Testing may be done during the pre-employment process, after an accident or injury, after reasonable cause or suspicion, randomly and/or as part of a follow-up to rehabilitation. Everyone in the company should be tested equally. This includes any pre-employment or periodic random testing.