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It’s Time to End All Drug Testing

(Photo: Micah Baldwin / Flickr)

As the reality of legalized marijuana inches closer and closer every day, more and more Americans are rethinking our society’s attitude towards drugs.

But not the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

In a recent white paper, the organization argued that we should start expanding drug testing at schools and in the workplace.

As that paper’s author put it,

The major need today is the wider and smarter use of the currently available drug testing technologies and practices.… Smarter drug testing means increased use of random testing rather than the more common scheduled testing, and it means testing not only urine but also other matrices such as blood, oral fluid (saliva), hair, nails, sweat and breath.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

Drug testing is counterproductive, degrading, and invasive, and it’s we put an end to it once and for all.

Although humans have used narcotics and intoxicants since the dawn of time, drug testing as know it is a relatively new phenomenon, and really took off with Nixon’s War on Drugs.

I had a friend back in the early 1970s – let’s call him Stanley – who sold drug purity testing kits out of the back of High Times magazine. It was a good business because it cost about ten cents for the drug-testing chemicals and he sold the testing kit for ten bucks plus shipping. By the 1980s, though, once the drug testing hysteria took off, he got really rich by selling his little drug-testing company for several million dollars.

The reason Stanley was able to sell his testing kits for such a big markup, of course, was that they’re hugely profitable. Today, ten cents worth of chemicals are sold for $30 to as much as $100. Drug testing is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry.

And it’s only gotten bigger.

According some estimates, approximately 84 percent of all American employers require pre-employment drug tests.

This is absolute insanity.

There is little proof that drug tests do anything other than make testing companies rich. That’s because as the ACLU has concluded,

“…drug tests do not measure impairment. Rather than looking for drugs, drug tests look for drug metabolites…As a result, drug tests mainly identify drug users who may have used a drug on the weekend, as they might use alcohol, and who are not under the influence of a drug while at work or when tested.”

That’s the biggest problem with drug testing. If an employee’s drug use actually affects their job performance, then their employer can and should have a discussion with them about it – and if they’re seriously impaired, get them into therapy or out of the job. Any other probing into an employee’s out of work behavior is just a violation of their basic right to privacy.

Think of it this way: there are a whole bunch of things that can affect someone’s job performance. Health issues, financial issues, spousal issues, quality of sleep, you name it. And if any one of those things becomes a problem, then an employer should work it out with his or her employee.

But if we took the principle behind drug testing to its logical conclusion, then we’d let employers install cameras in their workers’ houses to see if they getting a full night’s sleep. After all, poor sleep can impair many people worse than moderate drug use.

Of course, people would say that monitoring employees’ sleep is an insane idea. But it’s just as insane as making people pee into a cup to work at a factory.

There is maybe a case to be made that some jobs, like being a commercial airline pilot, are so dangerous that we should require drug testing for them.

But I know from years of experience as a pilot and passenger that the people who work in the airline industry are so concerned about their safety, as well as the safety of their passengers, that they will self-regulate even without the threat of getting fired after a failed drug test.

And what’s more, the work and pay schedules of some airlines – particularly the commuters, who pay their workers less than Burger King managers and have them work grinding hours – have been demonstrated to be a serious safety problem, one that’s arguably worse than any problem casual drug use could cause.

Ultimately, drug-testing gives people a false sense of security. And false positives regularly cost people time, money, and sometimes even their careers.

Most importantly, though, drug testing cuts at the core of our right to privacy. It gets us used to regularly having our privacy – including the privacy of our own bodies – invaded.

It promulgates the false meme that the Fourth Amendment is porous, when in fact it’s very clear in saying that our government has no right to mandate the inspection of your person or papers without getting a warrant first.

It also promotes the worst ideas about what it means to be both a drug user and a worker in America.

It promulgates the false meme that drug abuse should be a criminal matter, when in fact it’s a medical matter.

And it promulgates the false meme that employers are kings who can do whatever they want to their employees, when in fact employers should be treating their employees with respect.

What you do on the weekends and in the privacy of your own home is your business and your business alone, and no one should be allowed to punish you for it.

We need to end all drug testing beyond what is totally voluntary.

Let’s make America once again the “Land of the Free.”

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