Playing Defense. Things To Know About Detection & Deterrence.

(Part Three of a Three-Part Series: “Rebuilding A Workplace After COVID-19”)

The best defense  is a good offense.
Conventional wisdom, locker room motivation, business tactic

Offense is proactive. Defense is reactive.

Founding Father George Washington, early 1900’s heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey and legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi are all credited with using variations on this theme to frame their philosophies. Washington used it to describe his philosophy of battle, Dempsey to characterize his aggressive ring style, and Lombardi to underscore the impacts of his innovative Packers Power Sweep offense of the late 1950’s. All three chose action over reaction.

They could be giving us a lesson for today.

Faced with the prospects of restarting an economy and returning workers to the workplace, action vs. reaction will be a critical factor in meshing workplace gears without adding to business risks that likely come with a post-COVID 19 restart.

What have we learned in the past few months?

In the first two pieces in this series, “Stress, Self-Medication, and What History Teaches Us” and “A Shifting Threat and Why 70% is a Number To Remember” we looked at the impacts of trauma and prolonged periods of stress on the populations after the soul-crushing events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. What insights did we take away?

  • Nearly 15M people with Substance Abuse Disorder were employed in the pre-COVID 19 workforce. Effectively, 70% of U.S. drug abusers were employed in the nation’s workplaces.

  • The lessons of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina show us that in this crisis substance use has likely increased–significantly.

  • If New York or New Orleans history repeats itself we could see 5-10% more substance abusers in the labor pool than before the COVID crisis.

  • Psychostimulants’ positive rates–the drug class that includes methamphetamines and cocaine–surpassed opioids’ positive rates on Psychemedics hair tests in 2018. And are trending up.


Deterrence Theory has a place in a drug program.

Deterrence Theory, the foundation for systems of laws, policies or rules, focuses on the cause-and-effect relationship between an action taken or avoided based on perceived gain or consequence. It relies on certainty of a penalty being assessed for an unacceptable action to deter one from taking that action. Without that certainty, the perceived gain outweighs the consequence and deterrence is sacrificed.

So how does this apply to Rebuilding The (drug-free) Workplace? There are two critical elements, each of which contributes to the overall objective of Deterrence.

  • A test that assures Certainty of Detection
  • Clearly articulated Consequences if detected

Organizations employing three best practices in their drug program, nearly always see positive rates drop.

  1. Clearly articulating consequences for usage.
  2. Employing a test method that cannot be evaded.
  3. Proactively educating people who will be tested aboutwhy the test method is certain to detect drug usage.

Why does this work? Certainty of Detection. People perceive that consequences outweigh gains and abstain from use or seek out a workplace that does not practice those fundamentals. It is Deterrence Theory practiced at its best.

“Why not screen out the bad and hire the good ones?”

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“The objective of the most well designed drug testing programs is not to catch drug users but to deter drug usage.

As with so many things, the best measure of Deterrence is numbers. And those numbers—drug test positive rates—get lower and lower over time for companies that make “Deterrence” the key theme in their programs. The chart below illustrates the Deterrence impact of a well-designed drug testing program when employees know detection and consequences are certainties and abstain from use or drug users simply don’t apply.

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The importance of test method on deterrence.

As we learned from those two nearly overwhelming tragedies in New York City and New Orleans, the 21M people in the U.S. with a Substance Abuse Disorder will likely be joined by others who have coped chemically with the stress of this latest crisis. We should be more rather than less diligent in re-creating a drug-free workplace. The formula starts with delivering disincentives for people who might use, and Certainty of Detection coupled with fear of Consequences is a powerful combination. It forms the “Offense” in ensuring a drug-free workplace.

Establishing this disincentive—the Deterrent—relies on three critical components

1. A wide window of detection

As evidenced in Part 1 of our series, post-9/11 substance abuse did not lessen when the initial round of PTSD subsided. Where a urine or oral fluids test detects usage up to a few days back, a hair test looks back 90-days. Short term abstinence fails as an evasion tactic, reinforcing the threat of detection as one lynch pin for long term deterrence.

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2. A test method that cannot be evaded

A quick Google search yields thousands of discussions, hundreds of solutions and myriad products that claim to thwart drug tests. Nearly all deal with urine testing. For the re-staffing that will come with opening up the economy after COVID-19, it is not adequate. The drugs on an up trend—psychostimulants—slip by it and abstaining for just a few days generally ensures a passing grade.

3. Testing with hair…and making it common knowledge

When employees and applicants return to the workplace, they should know that users are certain to be identified. A Psychemedics hair test delivers the certainty of detection. Simply communicating that it will spot usage 90-days back and can’t be evaded with techniques that work for urine tips the scales in favor of Deterrence.

Is the best defense truly a great offense?

While deterrence is the objective, the COVID-19 crisis taught us that preparation, execution and measurement are critical in dealing with a a pandemic. Substance abuse is, at the least, an epidemic. As we Rebuild The Workplace, applying those lessons learned to our drug testing efforts just makes sense. Playing offense just makes sense.

Read These Case Studies

“Driving Toward The Drug Free Cab” andCreating a Drug-Free Chapter House”are two case studies that detail the deterrence impact that Certainty of Detection and broadly communicating a policy can deliver.