The History of Drug Testing in the Workplace

The costs and the effects of addiction are becoming harder and harder to ignore. Some studies estimate that addiction in the workplace is costing companies upwards of $276 billion a year. This staggering number, coupled with the fact that 70 percent of illegal drug users also report having full-time jobs, poses a serious threat to businesses all across the country.

While this threat feels greater than ever before, the worry itself is certainly not new. For over a century, drug screenings in the workplace have existed. However, drug testing services have come a long way since their origin, and in today’s article, we at Affordable Evaluations would like to share with you a brief guide to the history of drug testing.

If you are in the Houston area and in the need of workplace drug screenings, contact us! We take tremendous pride in providing our customers with affordable, confidential, and professional alcohol and drug testing services—the type of services that help keep workplaces all across Texas safe and free of drug abuse. We also offer return-to-work programs, substance abuse treatment, and industry-specific evaluations, such as DOT, ASAP, NASAP, CPS, FMCSA, FRA, and more!

Henry Ford

Since its genesis, the inspiration for drug testing has more or less been the same: increase the overall health, safety, and productivity of the workplace. One of the earliest reported uses of drug testing services dates back to the early 1900s when Henry Ford—the same man who founded the Ford motor company and revolutionized industry across the world—developed a “social department.” Among this department’s primary duties were to promote and ensure a “sober and moral” workforce. The staff in this department were tasked with monitoring the lifestyle and performance of other employees. Ford urged them to be especially on alert for employees who were heavily drinking and gambling. If employees were known to routinely engage in such activities, they would become ineligible for particular benefits and promotions.

Although Ford’s prescient approach was pioneering in many ways—especially in his way of understanding that behaviors outside the workplace will directly impact work performance—his approach was far too intrusive. Demanding that your employees live a moral life goes far beyond the scope of an employee’s duties. His focus was more directed at ensuring his employees were moral, rather than helping employees who were suffering from addiction. Because of this paternalistic-like approach, Ford’s program was abandoned shortly after its implementation.

Military Drug Abuse

We cannot speak about the history of drug testing without, of course, mentioning the military. Given the high-stress environment of combat, it is no surprise that the military has always been rife with drug and alcohol abuse. Even during the Civil War, soldiers were reported to have been abusing morphine while on the battlefield. Although the 10 million opium pills that were issued to the Union army were intended for the wounded, they ended up in the hands of many, so much so that after the war many veterans were addicts—or, as said during the time, they suffered from “the army disease.”

Using substances to cope with the stresses of war didn’t end after the Civil War. Virtually every war after had its fair share of substance abuse. Perhaps most noticeably was during the Vietnam War. During the 19-year conflict, soldiers relied heavily on marijuana and heroin to cope, which left them with full-blown addictions after returning to the U.S.

Although drug use was rampant during Vietnam, it wasn’t until 1981 when the USS Nimitz had an accident that left 14 soldiers dead, 48 injured, and amassed roughly $150 million in damages, that the U.S. Department of Defense implemented new drug testing regulations that prohibited and penalized users.

Federal Agencies and Department of Transportation

Not long after the military began to experiment with regular drug screening, President Ronald Reagan gave an executive order that mandated that all federal agencies implement a drug testing policy. This order precipitated a number of anti-drug-abuse acts and went on to not only inspire drug testing in the workplace, but it also lead to the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991, which made DOT drug tests mandatory for all DOT truck drivers.

Following all of these monumental acts of legislation, employers began to realize the importance of a drug-free workplace. Specifically, they began to see how regular drug testing could reduce injuries and increase productivity. Nowadays, it is believed that, overall, drug use in the U.S. workforce has been on the decline. However, in 2016, we saw a 10-year high when the number of employees testing positive for drugs rose to four percent.

This spike in drug use is, of course, alarming to business owners. As we mentioned earlier, substance abuse in the workplace is costing employers significantly—roughly $276 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs. Additionally, based on research conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), employees who use drugs are more likely to be absent and three times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident.

So what can you do as a business owner to keep your business safe and productive? Implement a regular drug testing policy! With thousands of alcohol and drug tests complete, we can perform all of your necessary drug testing services. We have provided testing services for Houston businesses, courts, and an array of regulating agencies. Call us today to learn more about and to schedule your workplace screening.

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