Companies have several options when drug testing employees

Allison Remcheck

For frequent drug users, taking a hit may not seem like such a big deal.

But as more and more companies are drug-testing their employees and interviewees, quitting may be one of the best ways to prepare for an interview.

Drug testing is not just something used by big companies, said John Fuehrer, president of Access Cleveland, a company that connects employers with drug testing.

“I can say with some confidence, there’s no correlation between the size of the company and drug testing,” he said. “It’s even more critical for small companies to do drug tests because they might be more vulnerable to law suits.”

Becky Csak, a lab technician at Toxicology Associates, Inc. in Columbus, said the most common type of test employers use is a urine sample that tests for 10 of the most widely used drugs:

• Amphetamines, such as crystal meth.

• Barbiturates, such as pentobar- bital.

• Benzodiazepines, such as Valium.

• Cannabinoids, such as mari- juana.

• Cocaine

• Meperidines, such as Demerol.

• Methadone, such as drugs to wean people off heroine.

• Opiates, such as heroine and morphine.

• PCP and propoxyphene, hal- lucinogens.

The top three drugs found through the tests are marijuana, cocaine and crystal meth, Csak said. Urine and hair provide the easiest forms of drug detection, but it can also be found through a blood test.

It is difficult to determine how long a particular drug will stay in a person’s system.

“It all depends on their metabolism and the concentration of what they smoke,” Csak said. “Not all marijuana has the same potency.”

But if someone is a chronic marijuana smoker, a person who smokes every day, the marijuana is usually detected through a urine test for up to three months after the person stops smoking, Csak said.

For moderate users who smoke a couple times a week, the marijuana can be detected up to a month and a half later.

For occasional or once-a-month smokers, it can take three to five days to cleanse the body of the drug, Csak said.

Hair tests are a much more accurate way for employers to test for drugs and determine whether the person is still using, or when he or she stopped, Csak said.

Every one centimeter of hair gives the information for one month of drug use, Csak said. So if the hair is 5 centimeters long, the information is available for five months. If the hair is 30 centimeters, the information goes back 30 months.

And shaving your head won’t get you out of this test. Hair can be taken from any part of the body, Csak said.

One of the advantages of a hair test is employers can choose how far they want the test to go back. For instance, the employer may want to know if drugs were used in the past two months.

Csak said she would measure the first two centimeters of hair.

“If that’s clean, then that’s an indication there were no drugs used in that time period,” she said.

Another reason hair tests are valuable is for cocaine testing.

“Cocaine’s not really fat soluble,” Csak said. “In half an hour, it would already be out of your blood system. Your body just flushes it right out. But it likes to stick in the hair.”

Although drugs can’t be washed out of hair, they can be dyed out to an extent.

“The blonder someone is, it’s harder to find drugs in their hair,” Csak said.

However, hair tests cost about $1,500 per person now, and employers are reluctant to use them. But Fuehrer predicts within the next six to nine months, the prices will fall and more employers will begin to use them.

The most common way employers do initial drug testing is with a drug store dipstick test.

“If they come up positive with the dipstick, they have to confirm it with a GC-MS (Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry test),” Csak said.

This test is performed by a professional.

Fuehrer said drug users are not in any one particular age category.

“We have received positive drug results for a wide range of age groups,” he said. “Everything from 18-year-olds to 50-year-olds.”

Remedies that promise to clear one’s system of drugs available on the Internet can help, Csak said.

“They work for the dipstick urine test,” she said. “They mask the shape of the drug.”

But they won’t fool a professional urine test.

And they will make you ill – with diarrhea and stomach cramping.

These remedies can make urine a different color, and if the person performing the test suspects they have been used, he or she will ask for another urine sample, Csak said.

People try other tricks to pass their drug test.

“There are some people who actually bring in other people’s urine,” Csak said.

People can also buy synthetic urine on the Internet.

However, natural urine is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and for most professional tests, there is a thermometer on the urine cup. Csak said it would be impossible to heat the urine to that high a temperature.

Although many people see drug testing as an invasion of privacy, Fuehrer said they are a practical way for employers to achieve a “clean, safe workplace” and save with their workers compensation costs.

“It’s cheap. It’s accurate. And as an initial screen, it’s very effective,” he said.

He said a test at his company is $36, and “if they get a positive result back, the screening process is over.”

Contact features correspondent Allison Remcheck at [email protected].