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Drug Testing News
workers who are drug-free cuts liability
By Arnold Lindsay
It's the order of the day in just about any corporate setting
— drug testing.
For Entergy Mississippi, drug testing has been part of the
cost of doing business for years because of safety issues,
said spokesman Checky Herrington.
It's also standard procedure for other large companies like
Nissan North America, which this month began implementing
random drug testing at the Canton facility that opened earlier
"They're pretty much standard to the industry," said Tom
Groom, Nissan spokesman.
Web sites and literature debating the pros and cons of the
drug testing issue show that $1.2 billion is spent annually in
the United States on drug testing.
And nearly everyone is dependent on the the tests to help weed
out troubled applicants and employees, to reduce a company's
On average, the University of Mississippi Medical Center in
Jackson spends $35,000 each year testing 2,500 employees and
job applicants. Part of that commitment is meeting federal
Department of Transportation guidelines that require 50
percent of commercial license holders to be tested.
In the event a UMC applicant fails a drug screen, the
applicant is told which substance was found and then banned
from re-applying for a job the next 12 months. If an employee
fails the test prior to seeking substance abuse assistance,
the employee is terminated, said Glenda Murriel, an
administrative assistant in the Human Resources Department of
At many workplaces, employees who admit to a substance abuse
problem up front and seek assistance are offered
rehabilitation. Once sober, most can generally return to their
jobs, with stricter supervision.
Entergy's policies show "tough love" in that an employee who
tests positive for substance or alcohol abuse on the job is
immediately suspended without pay. But the employee is given a
chance to remain employed.
"Once someone is suspended, then they are referred to a
substance abuse professional. That person is skilled in
dealing with drug and alcohol treatment and they will
prescribe training and or treatment for the employee. And then
a follow-up evaluation occurs with the employee and the
substance abuse counselor who recommends if the employee
should return to work," Herrington said.
An employee who does return to work gets tested at least six
times within the first year.
"And that process can go up to five years," Herrington said.
Like UMC, Entergy Mississippi, the City of Jackson and others
bear high costs to comply with the stringent federal
requirements, which also require unannounced alcohol breath
tests for 10 percent of commercial driver's-license holders.
Entergy has 355 drivers. The company spends on average $10,520
annually on testing.
"Entergy puts a tremendous focus on safety for our employees
and our customers. And that's why there's such a major
emphasis on drug and alcohol testing," Herrington said. "We
also conduct an internal audit annually to ensure that every
person we hire is drug free. In the past when hiring was done
and an offer was made, the hiring manager might have been in a
hurry to get that person on board. They might have waived the
drug test. But since the late 80s, we've had this audit in
place to make sure no corners were cut."
In fact, drug screening is so prevalent that many who know
they'll be asked to give a urine sample or some strands of
hair, sometimes call experts for advice on how to make a clean
up before they're tested, said Lee Spencer, supervisor in the
analytical toxicology laboratory at University of Mississippi
"Basically their question is how to beat a drug screen,"
Spencer said. "I hesitate to answer."
A variety of substances are sold, especially across the
Internet, that promise to help a person pass drug screenings
by detoxifying their system.
Among the items advertised are unisex synthetic urine that can
be substituted at the time of testing, and liquids that when
consumed, lock the substance in the body or force its rapid
release through urine.
"What does work is dilution. And laboratories do combat that,"
Even so, drug screenings are not an absolute science because
the issue remains a complex one, he said.
Other factors that affect whether a person whose test results
in a false positive gets a chance to clarify it, depend on the
company's policy. Federal law only covers specific groups like
commercial driver's-license holders, rail workers and nuclear
power plant employees. Mississippi has no state law that deals
with how corporations should conduct screenings, Spencer said.
For example, government testing guidelines set the substance
level at a point where a trucker who had consumed poppyseed
muffins prior to a test would likely not trigger a positive
unless he had actually ingested an illegal substance.
And there are other legal questions that industry participants
continue to debate, such as passive exposure of substances to
hair and urine, Spencer said.
It is possible for a test to reveal marijuana present in a
person who has not physically ingested it themselves, "just as
there are issues of passive exposure with urine," he said.
"Basically right now, without a state law, you can do what you
want, unless you're federally regulated," Spencer said. "The
larger companies by and large are going to have their acts
together ... the problems are going to come into place where
there aren't those checks and balances — the mom-and-pop that
doesn't have their legals in place like they should."
Dutchie Presley, the city of Jackson's personnel director,
said standard policy is consistent there, where up to $37,296
can be spent annually meeting the DOT requirements and
satisfying the city's own safety standards.
There is a substance abuse zero tolerance for police officers
and firefighters — one failed drug test equals dismissal.
Certain other positions qualify for counseling and
Depending on previous work performance, "it could be that that
very first time it's a termination," Presley said.
Any second offense warrants immediate termination regardless.