Local employers say more people failing drug tests
MANSFIELD — Looking for a job? Employers in Richland County say they have positions available — for those who can pass a drug test.
But that’s easier said than done, according to a 2012 survey by ERC. The human resources organization found a third of employers last year encountered a failed drug test.
The survey was indicative of a problem all Ohio employers are facing: There are almost 80,000 job openings, but not enough drug-free applicants to fill them.
Mansfield employers are no exception. Some of the top employers and testing sites in the city say they battle the escalating drug problem every day in the workplace.
At Industrial Workforce Solutions, the staffing company that lines up employees for some of the big-name companies in Mansfield, including Jay Industries, Milark Industries and Newman Technology Inc., a failed drug test has become the norm.
One of the first things applicants do when they come to Workforce Solutions is sign a form recognizing they will be subjected to a drug test. Occasionally that prompts applicants to turn down the position on the spot or they simply won’t show up come testing day, said Bob Beyer, operations manager. Almost all tests are conducted in house.
More commonly, applicants are showing up and failing the test.
Beyer said as many as 10 percent of applicants are not passing their pre-employment drug test. And even more alarming for Beyer, 15 percent to 20 percent of active employees are failing a post-accident drug test.
The drug of choice? Marijuana, employers say; followed by cocaine and heroin.
“(The type of drugs) are getting worse,” Beyer said. “People are moving to harder drugs.”
Toni Shaum, the lab supervisor at Workable, a drug-testing collection site that serves most of Richland County, is not surprised by Beyer’s experience. She said the drug problem in the county has exploded in the last four years.
Already this year the lab recorded 218 urine-test failures from January to mid-June, said Connie Rook, Workable program manager.
“And it’s probably higher for Richland because we don’t read every test,” Rook said.
Rook said the failures have consistently grown over the years.
In 2008, approximately 3 percent of people didn’t pass the drug test. By 2010 that number had jumped to 4.38 percent, and shows no sign of slowing. Six months into 2012, the percentage of failures already has reached 4.4 percent.
Why drug use is on the rise
The trend of drug use in the workplace has left employers puzzled.
Why are people continually showing up knowing they are going to fail the test, and why is the drug problem getting worse?
Beyer suspects the lack of consistency in the type of test employers use could be a factor.
Drug tests range from three-panel, testing for marijuana, cocaine and meth-amphetamine, to 16-panel, which adds myriad prescription medicines.
Industrial Workforce Solutions, along with most employers in Richland County, uses a seven-panel test, which covers “the big three” drugs as well as downers, angel dust, and pain medicines.
Five years ago, Shaum said, it was rare to see one failed test a month, but times have changed. Shaum now encounters as many as eight positives a day.
Shaum speculates the poor economy could be responsible for the rise in drug use.
“When the economy is crappy, people want to medicate themselves,” Shaum said.
The elephant in the room
The problem is prescription drug use has made it hard to crack down on the drug problem.
Employers fear the system may allow abusers to slip through the cracks.
Most drug tests detect common prescriptions for pain medicine, depression, insomnia and other medical issues, but if an individual can produce proof of a doctor’s prescription, that can excuse a bad test.
The confidentiality agreement between testing sites and clients also prevents the drug information from being sent to the individual’s employer.
For experienced lab technicians like Shaum, this disconnect between prescription drug use and failed drug tests has become the elephant in the room.
“Employers don’t ask for levels,” Shaum said, citing a case where an employee tested positive for a drug, but teetered on the cutoff line. She was legally bound to report the individual passed.
For MedCentral Health Systems, the largest employer in Richland County, failed tests are rare, director of employee relations Josh Hughes said. The health provider may find two or three failed tests a year, he said.
But Hughes says prescription drug use may skew the numbers in their favor.
“We’d have no way of knowing which drugs an applicant may be on,” Hughes said, noting the system makes it harder to catch abusers.