False Positive: Employers Should Re-Examine Drug Testing Policies

Dec. 1, 2016
Maybe a second look at your drug and alcohol substance abuse program may not be such a bad thing.

As safety professionals and HR personnel, we have our employees conduct random, post-accident and new-hire drug tests as a condition for hire. Although the medical reviewing officer (MRO), gives them what they consider adequate time to submit proof of medication, what happens when they can't produce it because they have truly never even tried any drugs? Do we terminate the employee? Do we decide not to hire them? 

Do we get rid of maybe one of our best hardest most loyal employee because a test concluded he was positive for opioids because he likes to treat himself to a cream cheese and poppy seed bagel for breakfast?  Do we ruin the career of a 20-year long employee because her new weight loss supplement says she is positive for THC – all because some vitamins have hempseeds as a natural supplement?

I go through this at every project at which I have to get drug test,  and it is embarrassing.  At one point, it even made me think about quitting as soon as I got the calls from the office telling me I had "popped hot" in a drug test.

Six years and eight months. That is the amount of time I proudly served the United States while on active duty.  After all that time and multiple deployments, I suffer from back, knee and shoulder pain, among other things. I have a medicine cabinet full of VA-prescribed medicine that I take from time to time when I have flare ups. 

Every time I take a urinalysis for a new job, I go through the same thing. I get a call from the MRO, and once again I have to fax in my VA medicine list to show I am not taking any illegal drugs. If you fail to fax the list in right away or within adequate time, it becomes a nightmare at work. Everyone you know believes you are the worst drug addict in the world.

A study published in The Journal of Opioid Management shows that the possibility for false positives and negatives do exist. Not only do they exist depending on the drug being tested and the type of test being conducted, the percentage of false positives can range anywhere between 20 percent to 50 percent in some instances. 

In an article, Charlene Latino talks about the research from a study conducted by Dr. Dwight Smith and colleagues at the Boston Medical Center. Information presented at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting stated that their research dating back to the 1980s show that false positives have been triggered by common household ingestions.

Over-the-counter medicine, weight loss supplements, antidepressants even some regular food we eat could trigger false positives.  A teaspoon of poppy seeds (less than that on a bagel) could cause a false positive for opioids, said Smith.

Instead of biting the bullet in the form of drug test cost, let’s allow workers to retest at a different facility or even the same facility, but with a new urine sample. It’s pointless to retest the same sample. If the employee cannot give you evidence of the medication they're taking, it doesn’t automatically mean they're lying and are drug addicts. There is plenty of proof that shows urine drug tests are extremely inaccurate. 

Maybe a second look at your drug and alcohol substance abuse program may not be such a bad thing.  

Josue M. Zamarron, STS-C, ASHM, CSHO, has been in construction safety for more than ten years. He started his career as a safety tech in high school for a small drywall company and joined the military after high school. After serving two combat tours, Zamarron left to become a safety instructor, helping veterans get free training and become employed.  He currently is a project safety manager.

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