Pubdate: Fri, 03 Mar 2000
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2000, Ventura County Star
Author: Jake Finch


Five members debate ethics, value, cost, motive for testing
employees for narcotics.

At what point in drug testing does a sound business decision become an
unreasonable invasion of privacy at work?

As could be expected, the answer to the question asked by journalist
and moderator Sander Vanocur varied greatly among Thursday's
five-member panel on "Combating Substance Abuse: Whose Business Is
It?" held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi

Nadine Strossen, law professor and president of the American Civil
Liberties Union, drew a clear distinction between recreational drug
use and substance abuse, saying the recreational user's job
performance may not be affected.

"I support, and the ACLU supports, the kind of testing that NASAand
the Federal Aviation Administration use, which determines what your
response time is and what is your hand-eye coordination," said
Strossen, stressing that if job performance is not an issue, then
employees are entitled to their privacy.

She also questioned the value of widespread drug testing, saying it is
not a deterrent for drug use and is excessively expensive for
businesses to conduct.

"From the perspective of business, is this the most cost effective
way? The answer is 'no'," she said.

Talk between Strossen and Thomas Donohue, president and chief
executive officer of the United States Chamber of Commerce, heated up
when Donohue defended drug testing, saying the privacy is violated
when the information obtained through the testing is used for reasons
other than assuring the safety and well-being of employees and customers.

"I just think it's a smart thing to do if you care about your
employees, customers and business," he said, adding that drug testing
itself is a deterrent.

"Most of the benefit is not that you do the test but that you're going
to do the test," he said.

Robert Tobias, a professor at the American University School of Public
Affairs, said that as of today, 49 percent of working Americans
between the ages of 18 and 44 have been tested for drugs.

He attributes the origins of drug testing to a 1986 report issued by
President Reagan's Commission on Organized Crime, which, he said,
reported that drug trafficking was the most serious crime of the day.

Reagan's response to the report was a presidential mandate requiring
the drug testing of 1.1 million federal employees, Tobias said. This,
in turn, led to the private sector's concerns.

"It's now time, I suggest, for individual employers to make an
individual analysis on whether the cost of drug testing makes sense,"
he said.

Raymond C. Kubacki Jr., president and CEO of Psychemedics Corporation,
which developed a drug test using hair analysis, strongly disagreed
with Tobias' premise.

He said corporations don't spend the kind of money used for drug
testing without first determining a need for it.

"We have a right and a responsibility to address (drug use) because
most people don't want to work in place with drugs," he said.

Former head of Primerica Financial Services Joseph J. Plumeri II said
that in his experience, some industries, such as brokerage houses,
were too lenient in their drug testing policy, while others, such as
the banking industry, were correct to test employees who were handling
millions of dollars of client money.

"For my own point of view, that unevenness has to be cured," he

All agreed that substance abuse, whether by alcohol, illegal drugs or
even tobacco, were legitimate issues for employers to take action on.

And for those employees who do abuse drugs, drug testing, followed by
counseling through employee assistance programs or insurance coverage,
is the best road to a solution.

"We're talking about helping people in stressful times become more
effective (through detection)," Donohue said. 
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