Students in Indiana to Face Random Drug Testing
Earlier this year, Jeff Studebaker, safety manager for the East Allen County Schools (EACS) in Indiana, proposed that schools start random drug testing on students in grades 7-12 in a preventive effort to cut down on student alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. In June, Studebaker’s policy passed for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year to start drug testing students who participate in athletics and extracurricular activities. Students who elect to drive themselves to school will also be subject to the random drug testing policy.
EACS and Studebaker hope that the institution of these drug tests on certain members of the student body will motivate them to consider the acute and chronic side effects of substances banned from campuses (all of which are illegal for minors to take). Administrators assume that the probability of a drug test will help students have a valid out when faced with peer pressure.
The new policy is not without punishment for students who fail to pass the drug tests. Depending on the number of positive-test offenses, students face suspension from athletics, extracurricular activities, and/or driving to school from 1/3 of the academic year to the entirety of their high school experience. The school district cannot test any student without the written permission of a parent or guardian, but it can prohibit a student from participating in their respective school activities without a signature consenting to the random drug testing. By leaving students without a choice in submitting to the drug tests if they want to be active in school clubs and athletics, the district hopes to leave them with only one choice in saying no to drugs and alcohol.
The EACS drug testing policy is fraught with problems, the largest being that a student who tests positive for banned substances one time will also be banned from engaging in school activities, athletics, or a self-commute to school that could benefit that student’s future or current situation. Sports and extracurricular activities give students a sense of accomplishment and positive social interaction, not to mention they appeal to college application committees. But secondary students are also prone to making rash and ill-informed decisions, even when they are inundated with health education that teaches them about the dangers of illegal substances. Peer pressure can still be stronger to a young person than the threat of an administrator, and limiting a student’s ability to be in a positive extracurricular environment for one infraction is extreme and counterproductive.
Additionally, Studebaker claims that he and school officials are “looking for kis who need help” by institutiting the drug tests, yet they are targeting students who elect to participate in school activities by testing them with an oral swab. Oral fluids do not carry drugs and alcohol for as long as other drug testing methods (like urine), so they tend to miss habitual users and catch very recent intoxication. Studebaker says that he saw other school districts utilize random drug testing on students and achieve positive test rates of 2% or lower. One could assume that this rate is due to students using less out of fear that they will test positive, but it is just as likely that the students involved in school activities aren’t using drugs and alcohol as often, or they weren’t using them within a window that an oral swab would detect.
Keeping illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco out of schools is definitely a worthy goal to ensure student and faculty safety, but keeping children out of enriching school organizations for one infraction isn’t worth affecting their future or access to a positive environment.
The Difficulty in Weeding Out a Legal Substance
With medical marijuana use legal in 23 states and recreational use legal in Colorado and Washington, employers who want to maintain a drug-free workplace are finding themselves in murky territory. In fact, some employers question whether or not maintaining an environment free of drug users is even a viable concept, and conducting drug screenings on employees in states that allow medical and recreational marijuana use is nothing short of a legal headache.
Employee drug use is problematic for employers because drug abusers cost companies money and productivity, and their habits elicit safety concerns, particularly in the workplace where employers have legal obligations to all of their employees. For this reason, marijuana is still considered an illegal substance on the federal level, despite its legal status in some states. Therefore, federal institutions can still prohibit their employees from gaining employment if they test positive for marijuana during a drug screening.
Those who find themselves benefitted by the legal use of medical marijuana, and those who have the ability to partake recreationally in Colorado and Washington, do not feel that their drug use outside of the workplace should affect their employment. If the purpose of a drug screening is to eliminate drug use in the workplace, then the concerns of the aforementioned individuals are completely valid.
The problem employers face when conducting drug testing on employees is that drug tests cannot determine whether or not a person is high on THC (the chemical in marijuana responsible for the psychological effects) at the time of the test, only that the chemical is present in the person’s system. THC can stay in someone’s system for several weeks depending on the individual and usage frequency. The current method of drug testing complicates retention decisions for employers because they want to eliminate the negative effects of drugs on employee performance and workplace environment.
Colorado law dictates that employers cannot terminate an employee if he/she uses marijuana off-site during non-working hours, as long as that is in accordance with state law. Employers in Colorado can only prohibit employees from using marijuana at work. Colorado’s solution seems simple enough, but how employers respond to employees who test positive for THC in states that have legalized marijuana use isn’t always uniform, nor is how employees monitor their usage in relation to work time.
Since drug screening occurs as a result of safety and productivity concerns, employers in states that have legalized marijuana (and one can only assume that number will grow) can help themselves maintain a drug-free work environment by educating themselves on state and federal laws regarding marijuana use and employment, effectively communicating drug policies to new and current employees, and acquiring legal assistance if and when an issue arises.
Pre-employment drug testing lowers workplace costs
According to the US Department of labor, “drug use in the workplace costs employers $75 to $100 billion dollars annually in lost time, accidents, health care, and workers compensation costs.” Implementing a pre-employment drug screening program is a crucial step in preventing these types of costs. Some companies will require both a background check and a drug screen before an applicant can be considered for employment. Reported percentages vary, but researchers in general have found that almost all Fortune 500 companies require drug testing as part of their hiring process or as a condition of employment.
Pre-employment drug testing is carried out by sending applicants to a specimen collection site. The testing is often ordered to be completed within a day or two of application for employment to prevent the applicant from stalling so they can “get clean” before the test is conducted. Most drugs can be detected within 2-4 days of their use, though certain drugs can be detected for up to 14 days. The most common drugs tested for include the following:
Once a specimen is collected, it is sent to a laboratory for analysis. Negative results are available within a day. In the event of a positive test, the results are re-verified before the company and applicant are notified. A sample of a positive test result is always retained in case of applicant complaint. If an applicant refuses, the response is the same as if there had been a positive test result.
Drug testing has been upheld multiple times in court as a legal prerequisite for employment. Companies are encouraged to obtain written consent from the applicant before the test is administered and to make it clear throughout the application process that the decision to hire would be contingent on passing the drug test. To prevent accusations of discrimination, it is best practice to test all applicants for the presence of drugs, or else to make it a requirement for only certain positions within the company. In addition to preventing workplace accidents, maintaining a drug free workplace has been shown to decrease tardiness, turnover, attitude problems, theft, crime, and violence.
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