Pubdate: Tue, 15 Feb 2005
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2005 Independent Media Institute
Author: Paul Armentano, Reason
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


One look at the Cozart RapiScan 
(, a self-proclaimed 
complete "on-site oral fluid drugs of abuse diagnostic system," and it's 
obvious: This isn't your parents' drug test. Gone are the golden days of 
the plastic collection cup. The Cozart saliva testing system comes in a 
spiffy silver suitcase and consists of an oral fluid collection swab, a 
disposable test cartridge, its own handheld digital computer, and a 
portable printer "for a permanent record of test results."

The official U.S. distributor of the RapiScan, The Dominion Diagnostics 
Corporation, was one of many hi-tech exhibitors hawking their wares in 
Tampa last spring at a meeting of corporate drug testers, toxicologists and 
law enforcement officers, sponsored, in part, by the Office of National 
Drug Control Policy (a.k.a. the drug czar's office). But this White 
House-backed gathering was no trade show. The purpose of this symposium - 
and the intent of the bodily fluid snoopers in attendance - was to call for 
an unprecedented, government-mandated expansion of both drug testing and 
the application of new drug-screening technology - and not just for those 
within the workplace. And the pee police may be close to getting their wish.

Random drug testing in the workplace rose to prominence in the mid-to-late 
1980s, embodying the zeitgeist of the nation's "war on drugs" fervor. In 
1986 President Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12564, requiring 
federal employees to be drug-free on and off the job. Four years later the 
U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the case National Treasury Employees Union 
v. Von Raab that suspicionless employee drug testing does not violate the 
Constitution's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. 
These executive and judicial moves paved the way for the unprecedented 
growth of workplace drug testing within the public and private sector. By 
1991, 62 percent of large U.S. companies were forcing their employees to 
"drop trou" as a condition of employment - a figure that in recent years 
has dropped slightly, but still stands at roughly 50 percent. Of the 
nation's approximately 1.6 million federal workers, some 400,000 may now 
undergo some form of drug screening.

Not surprisingly, this surge in the number of Americans peeing on demand 
has coincided with an explosion of alternative drug testing technology. In 
recent years, firms touting unconventional drug screens of citizens' hair, 
sweat, and saliva have emerged, each proclaiming its state-of-the-art 
gadgetry to be the heir apparent to the piss cup. For the most part, 
however, employers have been unconvinced. Despite promises of the tests' 
purported "increased sensitivity" and "less intrusive nature," federal and 
private employers have generally been unwilling to rely on such Brave New 
World methods, virtually all of which remain largely unproved by the 
scientific literature and lack approval from the Food and Drug Association.

Thanks to the work of groups like DATIA , the Drug & Alcohol Testing 
Industries Association, things are about to change.

According to its web site, DATIA is "a 1,200-member national trade 
association representing the full spectrum of alcohol and drug testing 
service agents, including laboratories, collection sites, ... and [drug] 
testing device manufacturers." In layman's terms, it's the lobbying arm for 
the drug testing industry.

DATIA's mission includes "working closely with key policy makers in federal 
agencies and in Congress to ensure that the interests of the industry are 
heard." Recently, the group's chief focus has been to push the U.S. 
Department of Health and Human Services to amend the federal workplace 
guidelines so that federal agencies can conduct drug screenings of 
employees' hair, sweat and saliva. (Existing federal regulations mandate 
drug testing programs rely on urine screens only.)

Such a change, DATIA hopes, might finally kick-start private employers to 
use alternative specimen technology. It would also financially benefit 
several of the organization's members, many of whom have a significant 
financial stake in the expanded use of alternative drug screening methods.

Last April, the government finally granted DATIA's wish, proposing to 
overhaul the feds' drug testing regulations to encourage agencies to use 
alternative testing methods. Ironically, the proposal came at a time when 
positive drug tests among federal employees are at record lows. (Of those 
federal employees tested for drugs last year, only 532 peed positive, at a 
staggering cost to taxpayers of $11,466 per positive test result.)

Meanwhile, the agency backing the plan, the Department of Health and Human 
Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 
(SAMHSA), has criticized the new technologies as seriously flawed. 
According to SAMHSA's April 2004 "Proposed Revisions to Mandatory 
Guidelines for Workplace Drug Testing," hair testing, saliva testing and 
sweat patch testing all have significant limitations.

In the case of hair testing, which detects drug metabolites (inactive 
compounds indicative of past drug use) that have passively diffused from 
the blood stream to the base of the hair follicle, the agency warns that 
both environmental contamination and hair color can significantly impact 
the accuracy of the test. "The role of hair color is ... a major concern," 
SAMHSA says, noting that "data show that higher concentrations of some 
drugs are found in dark hair when compared to blond or red hair." Studies 
have demonstrated similar testing inconsistencies when screening for drugs 
among ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans.

Environmental contamination - such as a scenario where the individual to be 
tested was recently present in a room where others smoked marijuana - also 
may negatively affect the accuracy of saliva testing, SAMHSA says. As a 
result, the feds are encouraging agencies to also collect a urine sample 
"at the same time the oral fluid specimen is obtained" for confirmation 
testing - although doing so will more than double the high costs already 
associated with specimen collection while, at the same time, likely 
yielding confounding results.

Regarding the efficiency of sweat patch testing, SAMHSA notes, "The 
Department knows from direct experience ... that some individuals may not 
be able to wear the sweat patch for the optimal period of time."

The fact that federal bureaucrats are willing to brush aside such 
technological concerns in their rush to break bread with the drug testing 
industry is illustrative of the growing political power wielded by 
America's bodily fluid inspectors. But for the drug detection cabal, 
invasive testing by employers is just the first step. The next is to extend 
bodily-fluid-sniffing from the workplace to the roadways - and enlist the 
full coercive powers of the state to do so.

For the past several years drug testing superhawk Michael Walsh, a former 
associate director to the drug czar and current president of the drug 
testing and lobby organization the Walsh Group, has led the charge to apply 
workplace drug testing standards and regulations to all licensed U.S. 
drivers. In 2002, Walsh partnered with the White House to lobby state 
legislatures to amend their drugged-driving laws, arguing that states 
should no longer require "impairment" as a necessary condition for 
prosecution. Instead, Walsh asserted that prosecutors simply charge all 
drivers who test positive for any level of drugs or drug metabolites as a 
criminal drugged driver - even if the motorist is neither under the 
influence nor impaired to drive!

As a result of Walsh's lobbying efforts, eleven states - Arizona, Georgia, 
Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, 
Utah, and Wisconsin - have now adopted such legislation, known as "zero 
tolerance per se" laws. At last spring's conference in Tampa, Walsh and his 
peers demanded Congress get into the act and pass legislation mandating all 
50 states to enact models of his zero tolerance bill. Sure enough, federal 
politicians are chomping at the bit to do just that.

Less than one month after the Tampa symposium, bipartisan legislation was 
introduced in Congress granting police the power to drug test drivers and 
arrest anyone found to have "any detectable amount of a controlled 
substance ... present in the person's blood, urine, saliva, or other bodily 
substance." Despite the proposal's purposefully misleading title, H.R. 
3922: The Drug Impaired Driving Enforcement Act, did not, in fact, require 
motorists to be identifiably impaired or intoxicated to be criminally 
charged with the crime of "drugged driving." Rather, as in the workplace, 
subjects need only test positive for inert drug metabolites (which, in the 
case of marijuana, may linger in the urine for days or even weeks after 
smoking) to be found guilty. Only this time, violators won't be losing 
their jobs; they'll be going to jail.

Despite H.R. 3922's sweeping intent to criminalize otherwise non-criminal 
behavior (driving while sober), congressional representatives in the summer 
of 2004 added the measure to the transportation reauthorization bill and 
promptly rubber-stamped it through the House without so much as a single 
hearing. However, much to federal lawmakers' chagrin (and, no doubt, to the 
disappointment of many within the drug testing industry as well), the bill 
eventually died in conference committee.

That's not to say America's pee police won't be back for another round this 
year with new and even more expansive proposals. In Tampa, attendees 
contemplated plans to enact random roadside drug testing checkpoints, while 
DATIA's legislative agenda for 2005 focuses on expanding the prevalence of 
student drug screening. Like it or not, it's dangerously clear the drug 
testers will not rest until every American has submitted to their 
inspection, and with more and more politicians in their pockets, they just 
might succeed.
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