Currently, urine analysis screening kits cost as little as $5 each and require minimal knowledge on the part of the tester. Fully automated test cups can test whether a specimen sample is at the correct temperature and that it has not been altered or diluted. The tester simply peels back the result label, and a negative result is shown with two lines or a positive is shown with one line in the urine drug test panel. In addition to urine analysis, saliva and hair samples can be tested as well. Saliva-testing kits provide on-site, instant results; the testers do not have to handle urine, and the tests are considered, by some, as less personally invasive. While testing urine specimens can only detect a single instance of drug use in the prior 1 to 3 days, hair testing can detect a pattern of repetitive use over a period of up to 90 days because the ingested drugs circulate in the bloodstream and traces of it remain in the hair follicles.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, drug testing may take place at all stages of the criminal justice system: arrest, pretrial, incarceration, probation, parole, and community corrections. However, drug testing is most commonly deployed in the workplace, where the vast majority of the tests are used for purposes of preemployment screening rather than on current employees. Quest Diagnostics processed nearly 9 million workplace drug tests in 2013. In certain occupational categories, drug and alcohol tests can take place under conditions of “reasonable cause” or suspicion, after an accident, or randomly during the preemployment stage. Employers assert that alcohol or drug abuse by employees creates significant safety and health hazards in the workplace and results in decreased productivity, poor employee morale, and additional costs in the form of disability and health care claims.
By one estimate, in 2008, 16.5% of U.S. public school districts had student random drug testing programs, with at least 1% of districts adding programs every year. Delaware Valley High School in Pennsylvania made national headlines when it began testing every student who wanted to join any school-sponsored activities, including the yearbook and the chess club. Miami-Dade Public Schools launched a “voluntary” drug testing program for all high school students, requiring consent from both parents and students. And in 2011, the Belvidere Board of Education in Belvidere, New Jersey, approved a plan that let parents have their 12-year-old sixth graders subjected to random drug testing. In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug testing kit for home use without a prescription. Today, parents can pick up testing kits at chain drug stores or order them over the Internet.
Since failing a drug test is likely to carry significant personal consequences, many attempt to “beat” the test by purchasing products designed to produce a “false negative,” or nondetection of a drug despite its presence in the sample. Purveyors in this unregulated sector tout herbal teas, pills, and liquids that they claim can detox the body in a matter of hours, daily-cleansing capsules for continual detoxing, and even shampoos that remove evidence from hair.
Drug testing has generated a considerable amount of litigation over the issue of privacy, but many rulings seem to follow the reasoning that, on balance, there is a “greater good” for society established at the cost of minimal individual invasion of privacy. Courts have generally concluded that the applicants have a simple choice to either consent to the limited invasion of their privacy caused by the test or decline to submit and lose the job. Few states have enacted protective legislation against random drug testing, leaving private employers free to test anyone for any reason.
William G. Staples
See also Drug Testing ; Privacy ; Privacy, Medical ; War on Drugs ; Work Surveillance
Hanson, F. Allan. Testing Testing: Social Consequences of the Examined Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
Sznitman, Sharon R., et al. “Student Drug Testing in the Context of Positive and Negative School Climates: Results From a National Survey.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, v.41/2 (2012).
Tunnell, Ken D. Pissing on Demand: Workplace Drug Testing and the Rise of the Detox Industry. New York: New York University Press, 2004.