The Value of Liquid Gold


Today Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is scheduled to preside over a signing ceremony at which five labor unions and five contractor associations will join the Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, a public-private collaboration that aims to "foster safer, drug-free and more healthful American workplaces and protect employees' health and safety." The Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, formed in 2004, apparently is not to be confused with the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, a network of "drug-free workplace program directors" that "has its origins in the President's Drug Advisory Council formed November of 1989." Nor should either be confused with the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace.

Despite the proliferation of such organizations since the passage of the Drug-Free Workplace Act in 1988, notes Reynolds Holding in an online Time article, the percentage of businesses that test applicants or employees seems to be declining. In my 2002 Reason article on the subject, I cited data from the American Management Association's survey of large employers, in which the share of companies reporting drug testing programs dropped from a peak of 81 percent in 1996 to 67 percent in 2001. Holding reports that the downward trend continued through 2004, when 62 percent of respondents were doing drug testing.

Since large companies are more likely to test than small ones, the overall percentage is probably substantially lower. In the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (the source of most recent nationwide data I've seen), 49 percent of respondents said their employers required some kind of drug testing. Holding concludes (as I did) that drug testing in private workplaces is declining because "from a business perspective, it never made much sense."