Are drug tests making skill gaps worse?

Dive Brief:

  • Most new hires are accustomed to the standard pre-employment drug test, but some experts believe testing overly complicates things. Jeff Pfeifer, director of sales and business development at MLP Specialty Metals told TribLIVE that his company saw two-thirds of a recent set of candidates fail drug tests. This has made it difficult to find good people in an already shrinking labor pool. 
  • Previously, some observers have argued that drug tests are remnants of Reagan-era practices that only serve to profit testing companies. Others counter that in industries like health care, the risk of hiring drug users is a real problem. 
  • Cities such as Pittsburgh, have been hit hard by opioid abuse, which further reduces the number of suitable candidates. Quest Diagnostics reports that in 2015, 4% of the 9.5 million drug tests performed in the U.S. were positive, the highest in 10 years. 

Dive Insight:

The current opioid epidemic has killed more Americans in recent years than either car accidents, gun violence or H.I.V. Its connection to employment is statistically implied; a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Researchers showed that for every 1% increase in a given county's unemployment rate, the opioid death rate increases by 3.6%.  

Drug abuse isn't good for business operations either. One estimate pins the value of productivity lost to opioids at over $16 billion, and that's not even mentioning the associated healthcare costs. Painkillers have proven to be such a problem for employers that some have formulated entire training programs educating employees about the pitfalls of drugs like oxycotin.

Employers, then, walk a bit of a tightrope when it comes to drug abuse prevention. Testing is mandated by federal law, but it also makes recruitment difficult for industries suffering from problematic skill shortages. Skilled employees are kept out of the workforce by drug abuse, weakening talent pipelines in certain geographical areas.

So what's the right call? In the interest of maintaining both the safety and wellbeing of other employees, and protecting their business ills of drug use, testing seems to be the most effective option. It's far more complicated to deal with the legal mess that can happen when an employee is abusing drugs on the job than to weed out drug users in advance of hiring them.

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Filed Under: Recruiting