Job Sites Testing for Legal Drugs Too

Almost everyone offered a new job these days knows that even before you begin worrying whether someone will invite you to lunch on your first day, you’re probably going to have to head to the restroom and pee in a cup as part of the pre-employment drug screening.

These tests, which became commonplace during the Just Say No days of the Reagan administration, initially were administered to detect illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Today, a new generation of screenings are increasingly being used to determine if potential — and often current — employees are taking highly addictive yet otherwise legal opiates, including Vicodin, Oxycontin, Dilaudid, Percocet, and Percodan.

“Employers have an interest in knowing whether a worker is using or abusing these powerful drugs,” says Dr. David Gude, chief operating officer for Texas MedClinic, which provides corporate drug testing and medical evaluations. “But because of privacy concerns, many are reluctant to test for these drugs.”

Yet, workers in safety-sensitive positions who use such drugs can open an employer to all sorts of liability. Imagine the ways a long-haul truck driver, airline pilot, or nuclear engineer who abuses these drugs can put himself, his co-workers, or even the public at risk.

At Halliburton, the oilfield services company with a significant presence in the Eagle Ford Shale, employees who test positive without a reasonable explanation will be terminated and then referred to the company’s employee assistance program for counseling, according to an email from company spokeswoman Susie McMichael.

With 46 employees, San Antonio’s Brown Excavation & Utilities has been doing expanded drug testing for about 18 months.

“It just got to the point where we said to ourselves, ‘It’s time to start doing this,’” said Bridgett Brown, owner of the water, sewer line and related structure construction company. “I sleep better knowing that we’ve tested our guys who are out on the road.”