The Golden Age

How Americans learned to stop worrying and love workplace drug testing

In the increasingly divided American landscape, where language, faith, and prime-time television no longer unite us as they once did, a thin golden line holds the nation together. It connects entities as disparate as Britney Spears, the Miami Dolphins, the Tecumseh High School Science Club, the cashier at your local Walgreen’s, even George W. Bush. Its domain is the restroom stall. Its associated features include tiny plastic cups, attentive strangers, and, on occasion, latex stunt penises and disposable heat packs.

It is, of course, the precautionary drug test. In 2008 it doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire entertainer, a service-industry clock puncher, or the leader of the free world: We’re all citizens of Urine Nation.

How did we get to this strange land, where anyone who dreams of working a cash register at Burger King must consent to high-tech bio-seizures so unreasonable they would have made James Madison irrigate his breeches in outrage? Return, for a moment, to 1988. The Cosby Show was dominating the Nielsen ratings for the fourth straight year. Donald Trump was enjoying the bulletproof sauna in his classy new 272-foot yacht. Congress was busy crafting the Drug-Free Workplace Act.

Today, if you ask any V.P. of human resources or peddler of mass spectrometers why the drug testing industry needs to conduct 40 million pop quizzes each year, he’ll enthusiastically explain how drug testing can increase workplace safety and productivity, reduce absenteeism and worker’s compensation claims, and generally make our factories, offices, and strip malls happier, healthier, more profitable engines of commerce. It’s a bottom-line issue, he’ll tell you, not a law enforcement issue.

In 1986 the sales pitch was quite different. And it wasn’t the private sector who was pitching it. It was the President’s Commission on Organized Crime. Until the early ’80s, drug testing had mainly been used by methadone clinics, law enforcement agencies, and doctors. When test prices started dropping in 1980, the military and the transportation industry began to make it part of their institutional lives. But it got its biggest boost when the commission decided the country’s appetite for drugs was a “national emergency” that the police couldn’t handle alone. They needed help from the private sector.

In that bygone era, the idea of a suspicionless bio-seizure was still controversial. The American Federation of Government Employees decried the commission’s “witch-hunt mentality.” Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) called the idea “idiotic.” Jay Miller, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Illinois affiliate, said it was “like using an elephant gun to shoot a mouse.”

So the government took baby steps. In September 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order mandating testing for federal employees. To “set an example and lead the way,” he and Vice President George H.W. Bush filled two bottles with grand old pee and had them sent to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, for testing. Two years later, Congress passed the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. While the Act didn’t specifically mandate testing, it required every company doing business with the federal government to maintain a drug-free workplace. Those that didn’t would lose their contracts. “We get an overwhelming number of calls a day,” a director at one drug-testing lab told the Tulsa World after the law went into effect. “More than 90 percent say, ‘I’ve got to do something, but I don’t understand what. Can you help?’ Most of them are not pleased. It’s just another cost, a significant cost to a small company.”

While many employers resented their conscription into the War on Drugs, the policy had a domino effect. As soon as some companies started making prospective employees submit biological résumés, no organization wanted to end up as the preferred haven of the pharmacologically incorrect. So even companies that weren’t doing business with the government felt compelled to break out the tiny plastic cups. By 1996, 81 percent of the large businesses surveyed by the American Management Association said they were doing drug testing of some kind.

Today, workplace drug testing is a billion-dollar industry. It has also spawned a thriving anti-testing industry and entirely new crimes. In Indiana, simply owning a Whizzinator—a comically complex but allegedly effective device that consists of a fake latex penis, a harness, synthetic urine, and heating pads—can lead to a 180-day jail term and a $1,000 fine. (This law hasn’t stopped people from buying the $150 unit. The company that produces the Whizzinator says it has sold more than 300,000 of them since 1999.) In 2004, a South Carolina man got six months in a state prison simply for selling his clean urine over the Internet.

And around the country, emergency rooms have reported an increase in niacin overdoses, especially among teens. Various websites suggest that taking large amounts of niacin can prevent the detection of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient. In fact, it’s mostly just a good way to overdose on niacin.

Observers still debate how much safer and more productive drug testing makes the workplace. But there’s at least one outfit that has no complaints about its efficacy. Forty million drug tests at an average of $30 a pop equals a $1.2 billion subsidy the federal government receives from the private sector each year to help prosecute its endless War on Drugs.

The private sector’s largesse isn’t limited to money and manpower: Workplace urine collection is a gateway drug to stronger forms of government coercion. As soon as we got used to dropping our pants at work, the government moved on to schools. “Fifteen years ago, school drug testing was too controversial,” John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the Los Angeles Times in 2007. Now that workplace drug testing is no more controversial than Casual Fridays, it no longer seems so invasive to make any teenager who wants to join the school choir publicly prove his chemical chastity.

This year, the federal government has earmarked $17.9 million to underwrite high school drug testing programs. That the government is extending the totalitarian, zero-tolerance perspective of the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 to our nation’s high schools makes perfectly symmetrical sense. After all, that simplistic edict took its ideological heart from a public policy initiative initially aimed at school kids, Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.

The “Just Say No” campaign insisted that all drugs were equally dangerous, all use was bad, and nothing was permitted. Workplace drug testing does the same, only for adults. (“The professional who pointedly ignores covert coke-sniffing by his or her colleagues must eventually come to realize that a person can no more tolerate a little recreational drug use than he or she can tolerate a little recreational smallpox,” the Commission on Organized Crime’s 1986 report declared.)

When organizations like the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace attempt to quantify the impact of drugs in the workplace, they consider only their negative effects. But what about the surreptitious line of coke in the bathroom that helps a salesman meet his monthly quota, or the afternoon pot break out by the dumpsters that keeps a dishwasher sane? Given the stresses of the contemporary work world, how come only Air Force pilots flying bombing missions over Afghanistan and Iraq have unregulated freedom to enhance their performance with go pills and no-go pills? Couldn’t we all use a Dexedrine now and then to get to 5 o’clock?

Talk about a pipe dream! Today “Just Say No” is kitschy nostalgia but the Drug-Free Workplace Act remains in full effect. Had the federal government started knocking on our front doors in 1988, cup in hand, demanding compulsory urinalysis, there would have been widespread outrage. Instead, in a move akin to Tom Sawyer convincing his pals to give him their marbles for the opportunity to whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence, the government outsourced its soaking of the Fourth Amendment to the private sector. It was one of the most ingenious policy decisions of the last 20 years.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato writes from San Francisco.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    It's easy to look at all the ways our liberty is being eroded away. I'm all for stepping back and realizing that things are getting better all the time. Even so, work place drug testing was a major step back. I'm old enough to remember a time when no employer would dare ask for your bodily fluids. Back in the before time, in the long long ago.

  • ||

    Does Reason require drug testing for employment? If so, do they also test or ask for proof of a negative test for freelance contributors?

  • Tym||

    I'm pissed off.

  • ||

    "Observers still debate how much safer and more productive drug testing makes the workplace.

    Why oh why could that be?

    "But there's at least one outfit that has no complaints about its efficacy. Forty million drug tests at an average of $30 a pop equals a $1.2 billion subsidy the federal government receives from the private sector each year to help prosecute its endless War on Drugs."

    Just follow the money folks.

  • ||

    It's easy to look at all the ways our liberty is being eroded away.

    This is kind of insulting, but in this case in the interest of workplace safety and productivity it is justified.

  • ||

    I left the US only 10 years ago, and I can't believe how much has changed (as far as workplace drug-testing is concerned). This sucks for most of you.
    No smoking, no drinking, no drugs AT ALL.
    damn.

    Now, back to my coca leaves...

  • ||

    "Does Reason require drug testing for employment? If so, do they also test or ask for proof of a negative test for freelance contributors?"

    If they do, I'm not renewing my subscription to "Reason".

  • ||

    "...$30 a pop equals a $1.2 billion subsidy the federal government receives from the private sector each year to help prosecute its endless War on Drugs."

    Not to mention the money going into the pockets of past Drug Czars who just happened to get into the drug testing business.


    /'cause, you know, it's for the children.

  • Addict in eXile||

    Despite what you may want to believe about yourself and your country, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of Americans have been a step ahead of Bush in demanding they be monitored more vigorously, and, if necessary, prosecuted more secretly, ruthlessly and unfairly than every before.

    This brings us to our uncomfortable point, one that no post-Enlightenment humanist would dare to admit: human beings WANT to be repressed. They feel safer. They function better under properly administered doses of repression. It gives them limits, direction, order, comfort, security. This is why American management theory, alone among disciplines in the West, never bothered with the counter-intuitive humanist myths pushed by Voltaire and Rousseau about freedom of choice and man's essentially decent nature.

    American corporations, the soul of the country, are top-down, rigidly structured mini-autocracies which are by definition anti-democratic and repressive. They function in a world of overt and covert employee monitoring, suspicion and pressure, fear and paranoia, rewards and punishments, conformity and caution. Their goal is maximum efficiency. Maximum efficiency is achieved both by motivating the workers to produce at their peak potential, and by creating conditions for maximum predictability. Cutting-edge companies like Intel and GE compared the work habits of employees motivated by teamwork and job security to those who were motivated by the constant fear of layoffs, deadlines, pressure... and they discovered a dark secret about man that our Enlightenment forefathers tried to make us forget: that workers--human beings, that is--respond most positively to fear. Using this discovery as the basis of their corporate management philosophies, these corporations wound up transforming American corporate culture, and eventually much of the world's. Most Americans spend far more time today in these vertically-structured autocratic mini-states, pressured, monitored, spied on, rewarded today and fired tomorrow, than at any time in American history.

  • Jacob||

    This is kind of insulting, but in this case in the interest of workplace safety and productivity it is justified.

    Then why not fire people for being unproductive or unsafe?

    The only time I was ever drug tested was when I worked in a grocery store. So far in the professional world I've done lots of job hopping but received no drug tests.

    Also, tip for the youngsters: most restaurants don't drug-test. They'd have to fire their entire wait staff.

  • ||

    Possibly a better reason to explain why so many companies jumped on the drug-testing bandwagon is that the Federal Government gave them a nice incentive. A big discount in their Worker's Compensation insurance premiums.

  • ||

    Frederick | February 13, 2008, 3:14pm | #
    It's easy to look at all the ways our liberty is being eroded away.

    This is kind of insulting, but in this case in the interest of workplace safety and productivity it is justified.




    -Oh really? Do these tests look for alcohol? No? So you can still drink on the job? Hmmm. And which is easier to obtain? Booze? Perhaps at lunch? Maybe a martini with your salad platter? But that's OK, right?



    Then why not fire people for being unproductive or unsafe?

    The only time I was ever drug tested was when I worked in a grocery store. So far in the professional world I've done lots of job hopping but received no drug tests.

    Also, tip for the youngsters: most restaurants don't drug-test. They'd have to fire their entire wait staff.


    QFT

  • ||

    Thanks, Addict, now I'm even more depressed. I need some drugs to make me feel better. Aw fuck.

  • Kolohe||

    I know this sounds like a troll cliche, but..

    .. if you don't want to take a job that requires drug screening, don't take that job.

    .. if you don't want to meet the requirements for a govt contract, don't take govt contracts.

    Yeah, the whiz-quiz industry is probably (definitelty) engaged in rent-seeking and creating an urine-industrial complex.

    And I got a problem with the testing in public schools, because there, people don't have a choice. (both by law and in practice)

    But the rest? Not so much.

  • Taktix®||

    urine-industrial complex

    We gotta do a Reason Wikka entry on this one...

  • ||

    "They function in a world of overt and covert employee citizen monitoring, suspicion and pressure, fear and paranoia, rewards and punishments, conformity and caution."

    This is exactly the picture I had of the Soviet Union when I was in West Germany.

    /I thought I was on the good side

    //Welcome to the USSA

  • Abdul||

    I don't think the whiz quiz is as common as Mr Beato makes it out to be.

    I know this is anecdotal evidence, but I've had over thirty jobs in my life, and applied for a lot more. I was only required to do a drug screen once. I've had a few jobs where I had to swear I was drug free or consent to a possible future random drug test, but that's about it. I work for Uncle Sam now, and while an invasive personal background check was required, they didn't need my recycled beer.

  • ||

    Had the federal government started knocking on our front doors in 1988, cup in hand, demanding compulsory urinalysis, there would have been widespread outrage.

    No there wouldn't.

    But that strategy wouldn't have turned every corporate human resources department into a police department, or reshaped all our employment contracts in the image of felony parole conditions.

    Fascism is smarter than you.

  • ||

    OT
    I talked to a Russian who said that we're just as much slaves to the state as they are. The Russians just admit it though.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Does Reason require drug testing for employment? If so, do they also test or ask for proof of a negative test for freelance contributors?

    Who says reason is necessarily looking for negative test results.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Despite what you may want to believe about yourself and your country, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of Americans have been a step ahead of Bush in demanding they be monitored more vigorously, and, if necessary, prosecuted more secretly, ruthlessly and unfairly than every before.

    I'm not so sure about that. Sure, they may be ignoring what's going on because they care more about things going on in their own lives or Britney Spears than about politics, but I don't see any evidence of people jonesin' to be oppressed.

  • ||

    To all you libertarians always throwing out that old canard about "slippery slopes": What a bunch of delusional. paranoid, pants wetters you are. Drugs are bad for you. Everbody knows it. This privacy smokescreen you keep putting up doesn't fool me. Not one bit.

    Individual freedom is not good for the collective.

  • Episiarch||

    I left the US only 10 years ago, and I can't believe how much has changed (as far as workplace drug-testing is concerned). This sucks for most of you.

    Uhh, rana, aren't you in Venezuela? Maybe you can have some of Hugo's favorite--coca leaves--but I think you have other problems, no?

  • ||

    Epi,

    "Uhh, rana, aren't you in Venezuela? Maybe you can have some of Hugo's favorite--coca leaves--but I think you have other problems, no?"

    So true. Plenty of serious problems. And if put on a scale, it is preferable to live in the US. Its just sad to see how oppressed people are becoming.
    Its funny to say but I know of people who will not leave Venezuela precisely because they cant drink beer in the street, play their music as loud and as often as they want, etc... (of course, these arent the kind of people you would want immigrating to the US to begin with), and I know people who have moved to the US or Europe and RETURNED to Venezuela because they missed the excitement- it is nice to be able to spend long weekends at the beach and drink booze along the way, then again car-accident mortality rates are incredibly high. Its a trade-off.

  • ||

    Despite what you may want to believe about yourself and your country, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of Americans have been a step ahead of Bush in demanding they be monitored more vigorously, and, if necessary, prosecuted more secretly, ruthlessly and unfairly than every before.

    I'm not so sure about that. Sure, they may be ignoring what's going on because they care more about things going on in their own lives or Britney Spears than about politics, but I don't see any evidence of people jonesin' to be oppressed.


    We've collectively fallen asleep and allowed this to happen. The few of us who were trying to wake everyone up failed. Now people are having to pi$$ for $. Just like trained seals.

  • Taktix®||

    From the Center for "Science" in the Public interest link:

    Alcohol-related problems cost American society nearly $200 billion per year and cause as many as 100,000 deaths annually. Alcohol is a major cause of premature death in the United States and a primary contributor to a wide array of health problems and human suffering. These include various cancers, liver disease, alcoholism, brain disorders, motor vehicle crashes, violence, crime, spousal and child abuse, fires, and suicides.



    With Government funded health care, all illness becomes a problem for "American society."

    This opens the door for any legislation regarding health, consumption, or whatever. It's over folks, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but freedom is butterless toast

  • ||

    I remember the day when you needed to do something wrong to be treated like a criminal.

  • ||

    ".. if you don't want to take a job that requires drug screening, don't take that job.

    .. if you don't want to meet the requirements for a govt contract, don't take govt contracts."



    On May 29, 1788, Alexander Hamilton wrote for the "Federalist Papers" (#79) the following:

    "A power over a man's subsistance amounts to a power over his will."

    Think about it. In a town of a few large employers, your kind of SOL if everyone wants you to pee for your paycheck.

  • ||

    "I remember the day when you needed to do something wrong to be treated like a criminal."

    Me too. I got my first real job with a handshake.

  • fyodor||

    I remember the day when you needed to do something wrong to be treated like a criminal.

    Didn't the cops look at you menacingly like one did to Gene Kelly for singin' in the rain?

  • Taktix®||

    Think about it. In a town of a few large employers, your kind of SOL if everyone wants you to pee for your paycheck.

    Don't forget subversion. NORML has methods to avoid detection, and although anecdotal, said methods worked for me when I had my one and only test in '06.

  • ||

    The cops in my home town drank beer with my dad at the local pub.Then drove home like every one else.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I remember the day when you needed to do something wrong to be treated like a criminal.

    Hmm, that sounded like a seditious comment to me.

  • Paul||

    The American Federation of Government Employees decried the commission's "witch-hunt mentality."



    If there ever was a group of folks who should be subjected to mandetory drug testing...right after Congress, that is.

    But seriously:

    Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) called the idea "idiotic." Jay Miller, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Illinois affiliate, said it was "like using an elephant gun to shoot a mouse."



    In my estimation, this analogy, as ridiculous as it sounds is precisely why these situations become accepted in the main.

    We laugh at the prospect of shooting a mouse with an elephant gun, but in the end, the mouse is dead, and we got a really, really loud and startling bang out of the process.

    Goal: Kill Mouse
    Result: Successfully Achieved
    Profile: High

    When you're dealing with workaholic zealot regulators in the federal government, the above is exactly the effect they're looking for.

    Populist types are soothed because they feel "something is being done" about the "problem". And, while I'm not going to argue about outcomes or statistics, businesses can take some comfort in the fact that they are able to screen out the dumbest pot smokers, and make the smart ones keep looking over their shoulder.

    None of this is to say that any of this is right, moral or just, it's merely the effect, or might I say, the perceived effect that remains most important.

  • Anarcho Agora||

    I opened my first bank account without providing ID or a SSN. I'd have to make certain I went to one of two tellers who knew me by sight to do withdraw money, sans ID, but it was worth the effort.

    This was a mere 25 years ago.

    BTW. Remember how the whole idea behind forcing employers to demand ID cards and Social Security numbers from employees was to curb illegal immigration?

    I do.

  • ||

    NORML has methods to avoid detection, and although anecdotal, said methods worked for me when I had my one and only test in '06.

    Same here, in 04. Standard pre-employment screen, but it was two very unpleasant days until the negative result came back.

  • Paul||

    Oh, minor threadjack... kind of. Since this is a drug-related thread, I thought I'd make everyone feel just a little bit better about how well we're doing in rolling back the war on drugs. Marijuana Matriarch faces looooong prison sentence.

  • ||

    People don't jones to be oppressed, they just jones for other people to be oppressed in ways they themselves won't mind. People who believe every piece of drug-war propaganda and don't personally use drugs have no problem making would-be cashiers take a drug test because, OMG, think of the children, they could kill someone, illegal means illegal, etc.

  • ||

    @eXile:

    I think you're making a logical fallacy in implying that because there is an overwhelming tendency of humans to live complacently under repression then that is what they want. I would argue that over a few million years, the unfit (in a biological sense) behavior of every individual independently thinking over every decision they make has culminated in a brain that is more likely to conform and encourage others to conform because it is more conducive to survival. Not to mention intense social conditioning, stemming, of course, from neurological structure. You are suggesting that humans want to be repressed because they like it without giving some credit to brain structure that is inherently designed to do so and the social systems that arise from the older territorial, xenophobic parts of our brains.

    Note that I am not a neurological determinist, nor am I saying that personal responsibility doesn't exist. People ultimately choose to live under their masters and the weak emergent properties of consciousness allow us to do so without being robots confined to an equation of neural firings. But our evolutionary history plays a large part in group behavior even now, and the tendency to accept oppression as the norm is a key facet in that behavior. Obviously our brains can overcome evolutionary "shortcomings" but that rarely happens in a society that encourages them.

  • Anarcho Agora||

    Back when Reagan was POTUS, I was a pot smoker living in a meat packing town. It was noticed that *everyone* was passing their pre-employment piss tests, using a wide variety of methods ranging from drinking lots of pickle juice to pricey pills and powders sold out of the back of High Times. Careful experimentation (read: sending in an unrepentant doper for a recon run) revealed that the tests were a ruse. Seems The Plant was short on Mexican imports, so they were willing to dip into the doper pool until the Mexican (who, presumably, pissed clean) laborer supply-lines were restored.

  • Rice Bingham||

    This reminds me of that most infamous Conway Twitty line.

  • ||

    Also, tip for the youngsters: most restaurants don't drug-test. They'd have to fire their entire wait staff.

    Ditto for ad agencies. Thank god.

  • fyodor||

    It's a lot cheaper to make someone piss in a cup than it is to run the damn the test.

  • nobody special||

    The only pee tests I ever had were when I was paid from federal grants or worked in a hospital, and that goes back to 1986.

  • ||

    Ditto for ad agencies. Thank god.

    Ditto for most computer shops.

    I have had to take 2 drug tests in my lifetime for employment. One was to work at Best Buy when I was in HS, the other was my 2nd job out of college for UBS. I didn't smoke any pot in HS, but the UBS was passed with a combination of abstaining for a couple of weeks and some Golden Seal from GNC. After the fact I found out that a gallon of water and some B12 (for colorful urine) would do just as well.

  • ||

    Kolohe,

    The reason why it's important to tell anyone asking for a drug test "fuck you, get a warrant", is that getting too used to the idea of drug tests being routine and normal, means that people will not resist when government seeks to make them mandatory.

    -jcr

  • Paul||

    Also, tip for the youngsters: most restaurants don't drug-test. They'd have to fire their entire wait staff.

    Shyeah, how do you explain hospitals? Ever known a nurse for more than five minutes? It's like that last scene in Scarface with them I swear.

  • Paul||

    The reason why it's important to tell anyone asking for a drug test "fuck you, get a warrant", is that getting too used to the idea of drug tests being routine and normal,

    John, agreed. The problem we have now is that we don't necessarily turn these situations into legal standoffs, they're groupthink challenges.

    Applicant: Fuck you, get a warrant.
    Employer: No need, hundreds of people need this job, next.
    Next applicant: Fuck you, get a warrant.
    Employer: No need, hundreds of people need this job, next.
    Next Applicant: Where do I pee?

    Yes, I know the obvious response is that if everyone demanded a warrant, we'd win. But that's not the reality of the situation. When we're trying to get a job, the first person to blink ruins it for everyone else, not the other way around.

  • Fortune 100 Exec||

    Dear Addict in eXile,

    Firstly, what a crock of shit. And secondly, do you work for enXco?

  • ||

    zoltankemeny | February 13, 2008, 4:31pm |

    ^^ Excellent point, very well stated.

  • ||

    How would one find out if Reason Magazine is forcing its prospective applicants to pee for $? I need to decide whether to renew my subscription.

  • ||

    How would one find out if Reason Magazine is forcing its prospective applicants to pee for $?

    Perhaps one of the staff will answer, but really, I'd be be extraordinarily surprised if they did require it. It seems to me so utterly unlikely as not to be in any serious doubt.

  • Greg Beato||

    I'm a freelancer, but have never been asked to take a drug test for Reason. Plus, Nick is always quick to pick up a bar tab. I'm hoping that policy continues under Matt as well.

  • ||

    "I'm a freelancer, but have never been asked to take a drug test for Reason. Plus, Nick is always quick to pick up a bar tab. I'm hoping that policy continues under Matt as well."

    Thanks for the response. I hope Nick picks up a bar tab for me someday. So I can tell the grandkids I once drank with the "leather jacketed one" who wasn't the "Fonz".

    /check for subscription being seriously considered.

    //which bill do I put off?

  • Paul||

    Plus, Nick is always quick to pick up a bar tab.

    How long have you been an alcoholic, Greg?

  • Paul||

    By the way, before I lose my posting privileges, that 7:23 post was an attempt at humor-- like "when did you stop beating your wife".

  • ||

    For a quick and dirty look at the relationship between drugs in the workplace, testing, rumors and innuendo. One has to look no further than the MLB steroid scandal and Roger Clemense. How does Mr. Clemense get his honor back? How can MLB come clean without looking extremely dirty?

  • Mike Laursen||

    Perhaps one of the staff will answer, but really, I'd be be extraordinarily surprised if they did require it.

    Very surprising, considering Senior Editor Jacob Sullum has an article on this website starting with the words, "Not long ago, at a party in Amsterdam, I was about to swallow some psilocybin mushrooms..."

  • ||

    From what I understand, the prevailing libertarian viewpoint is that private employment discrimination on the basis of race, disability, and gender should all be legal. Why isn't discrimination on the basis of willingness and ability to pass a drug test allowable?

    Or is this one of those cosmotarian things, where we oppose frivolous govt intervention until activities of the private sector threatens our drug use?

  • ||

    If I test positive will I still be drafted? In the new Demo Peace/Job/Military Corps? Does the military get an afternoon smoke break?

  • Greg Beato||

    Or is this one of those cosmotarian things, where we oppose frivolous govt intervention until activities of the private sector threatens our drug use?

    Chris, the point of the piece is that the private sector didn't develop its drug-testing habit entirely on its own. The federal government was instrumental in peer-pressuring countless businesses into taking those first fateful tokes that led them down the awful road to addiction.

    How long have you been an alcoholic, Greg?

    Paul, the truth is I'm just a light recreational drinker, which, for a freelance journalist, is kind of embarrassing to admit. So thanks for your attempts to bolster my reputation.

  • Zach||

    It thought libertarians supported business owners rights to hire or not hire anyone for any reason? If they drug test and you don't like it don't work there.

  • ||

    "It thought libertarians supported business owners rights to hire or not hire anyone for any reason? If they drug test and you don't like it don't work there."

    In Libertopia, drugs would be legal, so there would be less stigma attached to the recreational, off the clock use of legal drugs. Right now, the drug test is used as a morality detector, not to determine fitness for a job.

  • ||

    Speaking about taking liberties away, why don't we just pass a bill that takes away basic liberties and freedoms(*)from Americans, and then add 'salt to the wound' by calling it something that rings of (psuedo-uber)'nationalism'. Oh yeah, we did ;It's called the "Patriot Act"!
    *which liberties and freedoms, you might ask? - just try putting the Constitution up on the wall and throw a dart at it, you're bound to hit some of the 'rights' rationally conferred to us by our 'founding forefathers.' Thomas Jefferson - one of the greatest social/political, axiological philosophers this country has ever known - would be rolling over in his grave if he knew that the term 'patriot' was being used to wrestle natural rights away from Americans!

  • penxv||

    I get drug tested by the government. And they talk to me like I'm retarded.

  • Lonesome Cowboy Burt (speakin\||

    A man I know owns a tile setting outfit. Years ago, his insurance company came to him with a deal. If he mandated pre-employment piss testes, and random piss tests once his employees, the insurer would give him a break on prices.

    He agreed. Money is good.

    As it played out and to hear him tell it, all of his employees turned out to be "either pot heads, meth heads, or Mormons."

  • ||

    Sounds like the insurance companies are not competing. That's not capitalism. Break them up. Competition = freer markets.

  • Thomas Paine\'s Goiter||

    We've collectively fallen asleep and allowed this to happen. The few of us who were trying to wake everyone up failed.

    We didn't fail, we were laughed at and then ignored.

  • ||

    Years ago, his insurance company came to him with a deal. If he mandated pre-employment piss testes, and random piss tests once his employees, the insurer would give him a break on prices.

    I wonder if the insurance company required him to take any action on the test results.

    I could see him going to his workers and saying "Hey, guys, I can save a couple thousand bucks on insurance if everyone will pee in a cup. I won't even open the test results when they come back, but I will throw a hell of a holiday party with the savings."

  • ||


    As it played out and to hear him tell it, all of his employees turned out to be "either pot heads, meth heads, or Mormons.


    Even though I've never tested positive for drugs (I'm mormon, ha), I still hate having to do it at all.

    For awhile I was a technical trainer at a large bank. I often had to schedule rooms for training meetings, and one day I noticed a room I normally used was booked by a company with a vaguely medical sounding name. Half an hour later, I was asked to go to a meeting in that very room, and my boss wasn't allowed to to tell me why.

    When I got there, I saw a soman, a waiver, and a cup. I sat down as the woman explained to me, in slow, clear tones (in case I may already be under the influence) that I must pee into the cup, that is must be the right temperature, et cetera et cetera.

    Having never taken any drugs before, I wasn't worried of testing positive, but I still felt a little violated and was quite angry at the whole affair. It's a witch-hunt mentality no matter how you paint it, and I'm glad to be working now for a company that doesn't require it.

    Incidentally, I always watched for days when that room was booked by the 'medical' company and made sure I was away from the office so I didn't have to take any 'pop' whizzes.

  • Robert||

    I wonder if the insurance company required him to take any action on the test results.

    I could see him going to his workers and saying "Hey, guys, I can save a couple thousand bucks on insurance if everyone will pee in a cup. I won't even open the test results when they come back, but I will throw a hell of a holiday party with the savings."


    Hell, I would just fill a jug of sissy and parcel it out as everyone's sample to save time.

  • ||

    R C Dean | February 14, 2008, 11:14am | #

    Years ago, his insurance company came to him with a deal. If he mandated pre-employment piss testes, and random piss tests once his employees, the insurer would give him a break on prices.

    I wonder if the insurance company required him to take any action on the test results.

    I could see him going to his workers and saying "Hey, guys, I can save a couple thousand bucks on insurance if everyone will pee in a cup. I won't even open the test results when they come back, but I will throw a hell of a holiday party with the savings."



    Maybe they let employers administer their own tests back then, but these days, at least for the large NYC company i work for, you have to go to a certified 3rd-party company like the one "James R" mentions a couple of posts up, some (like the one I went to) have their own facilities.

  • ||

    I took an undergraduate internship with Philip Morris, USA's R&D department. As an unsuspecting 19-year-old, I was submitted to a mandatory, preemptive drug test, so's I could get hired to push another drug. This disconnect inspired me to write about the fallacy of a preemptory corporate drug test for a research class I was taking at the time. 25 pages later, I was mildly pacified. Interestingly, I later took a co-op position with DuPont, famous for it's anti-hemp, pro-nylon campaign. Again, the preemptive drug test, with the constant threat of random drug testing being held over our heads. I'm gunning for self-employment.

    Thanks for the elucidation of the details, Greg.

  • LarryA||

    Today, if you ask any V.P. of human resources or peddler of mass spectrometers why the drug testing industry needs to conduct 40 million pop quizzes each year, he'll enthusiastically explain how drug testing can increase workplace safety and productivity, reduce absenteeism and worker's compensation claims, and generally make our factories, offices, and strip malls happier, healthier, more profitable engines of commerce. It's a bottom-line issue, he'll tell you, not a law enforcement issue.

    Bullshit. If using drugs makes people less productive, etc. why do we need drug tests to spot them? Just fire the underproducing people and save the testing fees.

    To "set an example and lead the way," he (Reagan) and Vice President George H.W. Bush filled two bottles with grand old pee and had them sent to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, for testing.

    And the general said to the private, "Make damn sure these come up negative."

    This is kind of insulting, but in this case in the interest of workplace safety and productivity it is justified.

    Has there been a drop in accidents and an increase in productivity in the companies that test? Where? It sure hasn't shown up among federal employees.

    Why isn't discrimination on the basis of willingness and ability to pass a drug test allowable?

    Drug testing by private employers is among the many activities libertarians would label "legal but stupid." Let the market punish the employer.

    Sounds like the insurance companies are not competing. That's not capitalism. Break them up.

    It's not the capitalism that's the problem, it's the government regulation of the insurance industry. The table of contents of the Texas insurance code runs several pages.

  • ||

    "It's not the capitalism that's the problem, it's the government regulation of the insurance industry. The table of contents of the Texas insurance code runs several pages."

    And it probably includes the DEA illegal drug schedule, so, you know, any pesky states which legalize cannabis won't affect the policy. The policies will change only when the federal war on some drugs is ended.

  • ||

    Welcome to the UnSoA (Urination nation States of America)

  • ||

    Tinkle, tinkle
    little cup
    how I wonder
    Yo! Wassup?
    Do I really get the job
    or do I go to gaol?

    Next step: your prospective employer required to report all results to the DEA.
    "They're comin' for ya, fuckers, watcha gonna do?"

  • Random person||

    Only poor working people in the US get drug tested. Over a few years in the US, I moved up from hourly jobs up to a six figure salary. There's drug tests for the hourly and lower salaried jobs, but once you crack the $100k barrier and transfer between companies - the drug test is gone! I was really surprised.

    So if you don't to get drug tested, just make more money, dammit.

  • ||

    Reason.com

    I love the morons who say "don't like it, don't work there". Guess what--they've saturated the market with this violation of civil rights! Everyone is expected to sacrifice their rights in exchange for a grubby crust of bread in their mouth! There is NO CHOICE involved anymore than if I held a gun to your head and told you to piss, you know that, and you'd damn well admit it if you had a shred of honesty left in your body.

    And I absolutely loathe the jagoffs who talk about "private companies, they can do what they want". Oh, so they can discriminate based on gender, race, disability, religion, etc? Hang the "no coloreds" sign of old on their doors? I suppose you'd have no objections if you were subjected to random or pre-employment house search and seizure? Or pre-employment random strip/cavity searches?

    Besides which, the government is subsidizing and mandating drug testing. It's like money laundering, but with civil rights--they can just say "private sector, you have no case!" and pretend that it isn't a government action because they simply switched the nametags. And the cretins in this country swallow it hook, line, and sinker.

    I think there is an investment psychology involved. There is a lot of violent attitude towards people who won't take a drug test. Either they are seen as some kind of "addict" who needs to come clean, or....well, that's it. People like me, who are "clean" but refuse to submit to gross violations of bodily integrity and privacy rights are most often assumed to be addicts or, in the rare cases where we are taken at our word, are subjected to even more hatred and abuse and told "enjoy starving in the street if you're not willing to do what you're told!" I think the average American is, in some subconscious way, aware that this is absolutely wrong, but if they admit it at this point it's like admitting that they themselves were wrong or that their submission has helped to usher fascism (the merging of corporation and state) into what used to be a free country. And it's much harder to get the average person to admit to a mistake than it is to get them to surrender their rights, every time.

    I think the average Joe and Jane Moron also loves the idea of controlling their neighbor. Kind of like people who supported the whole Singapore thing and thought we should start using floggings in our country--not one of them really thought of the possibility that they could be flogged, no, that was something to happen to the "scum". They knew that it could never be used on them because they weren't "scum", but so long as the "scum" got their righteous stripes, they were willing to take their chances (which to their minds were nil anyway). It's amazing how many rights the average douche will give up willingly in order to make sure that his totally untrustworthy neighbor is behaving himself--even as that untrustworthy neighbor thinks the exact same of him. And the guys in charge love that oh-so-useful attitude of the average Useful Idiot.

    Amusingly enough, they all still have avid drug users working for them, while someone "moral" like me is denied a job because I refuse to do something that is wrong for personal gain. (BTW, I support Prop 19 and I see nothing inherently wrong or immoral about the majority of drug users, especially those who use MJ--hence the quotations around "moral". I just find it hilarious that they are imposing a test that fails so spectacularly at keeping the people they don't want out, while barring some of the people they do want).

    At the same time, I'm not sure it's really about drugs. I think it's a great way to get the American worker used to the new corporate feudal system. We are being trained to understand our role as livestock, whose very bodies are not our own but are the property of whoever pays to feed it.

    BTW, I've been looking this shit up, and I have found that the studies showing that drug testing increases safety and productivity have all the credibility of the Big Tobacco studies on how cigarette smoke is totally as healthy as the regular air we breathe. Studies that are not conducted or bought and paid for by those with a personal stake (testing companies, Drug Czars looking to protect their investments and/or their job security, for example) show that testing does nothing of the sort.

    Only problem is that those independent studies are hard to access, are hard to read (being actual studies and not articles) and are therefore less seen by average Joe and Jane Moron--whereas the fake-o studies are highly accessible, easy to read, and sensationalized to maintain the maximum interest and support of said average Morons. Gee, I wonder why?

    You can find them if you're looking for them, though.

    If anyone who opposes drug testing in the workplace is still interested in this subject (I've noticed the dates on this sort of thing are always kind of old, but this one is fairly recent at least), please look me up. I often go by the above moniker or by DrUnscrupulous on youtube.

    Seriously. It's almost impossible to find information on this. It's like the subject has been silenced, or perhaps just drowned out by the monsters at the DEA and all the pro-testing cheerleading from the testing companies. I think there needs to be more vocal opposition of this shit, or else nothing will happen. Problem is, those who oppose workplace drug testing usually just seem to stay individual, say a few words, then disappear with a "meh" and allow the fascists to continue banding together. I would love to see an actual banding-together of those who oppose this. I'd start a site myself, but I have no idea how, and I suspect that if I used my Google account it would be summarily canceled.

    Fact is, they want us to feel like we are alone and that there is no way out, and therein lies their power. If there could just be some kind of informal site where people could unite and be vocal about this, it could be a real start, creating both visibility and the chance to provide education on the truth.

  • ||

    BTW, a little anecdotal evidence here. I worked at a prestigious insurance firm that did no testing without suspicion--no pre-employment and no random, just a waiver that they reserve the right to ask if you get in an accident or come to work glassy eyed and bumping into shit or something like that. They had the highest productivity and the best employees I've ever worked with in my life. Everyone was professional and courteous and knew how to do their jobs well.

    My sister and my brother both work at places with avid no-suspicion drug-testing, and everyone is not only using drugs, but they come to work stoned, and the entire system is an unproductive joke. No one seems to know their ass from a hole in the ground.

    Gee, I wonder how that is? By the word of your average Testing Co. scammer or DEA fascist, the latter companies should be a shining beacon of workplace productivity and safety, whereas the former should be adrift in a sea of accidents and missed deadlines. Could it be that perhaps workplace drug testing creates nothing but the intuitive illusion of workplace safety and productivity, basing itself entirely on the assumptions of the ignorant and misinformed?

    Surely not. I must have been hallucinating from one of my no-doubt epic multi-drug benders (seeing as how I refuse to take a drug test, and therefore must by necessity be an unrepentant drug addict, because as we all know that is the one and only reason one might refuse a drug test.)

    /sarcasm

    I only left the insurance company to go to college. If I'd know the economy would collapse for me around the time I'd graduate, and that nearly everyone in the state and possibly the country would be taking advantage of the breakdown to expand drug testing without suspicion, I never would have left.

    I hear the tests are seeking out cigarette smokers now, creating a conflict of interests between the various obscenely wealthy and influential corporations that have supported this violation so far. This could get very interesting. Very very interesting.

    I kind of take personal pleasure in that, because a personal acquaintance of mine and her moronic mother are avid chain smokers, and both support drug testing as a great way to protect society from "teh bad guyz"--among other wonderful police-state ideas of which they fully approve. I'd love to see this form of testing start affecting them just to see their pro-fascist asses squirm. >:D

    Not that I am supporting that either. But sometimes you have to hold an idiot's feet to the flames for them to see how wrong something is.

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  • Drug Free Training||

    Workplace drug testing can be helpful to those using drugs as many policies include giving help to those on drugs. However, a drug policy without this clause may not be beneficial.

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