In 1999, employees at Molded Container Corp. received a special introductory welcome to drug testing:
First, all workers at the injection molder were tested. Three months later, everyone was given a second test, said human resources manager Maureen Zwicker.
The idea was to nab any potential cheaters red-handed.
``It's an old company, and we were trying to get into the 21st century with drug testing,'' said Zwicker of the Portland, Ore., company. ``They weren't expecting it a second time. People knew then that we were serious.''
Many processors are making earnest attempts to manage the long-time workplace hindrance. Strategies include the growth of random testing - Molded Container now conducts monthly tests of some of its 150 or so employees - and the embrace of both outside treatment programs and new testing methods.
Curbing the habit has led to stricter federal standards, too. The Department of Transportation has issued new mandated testing for all workers - both federal and private - who drive heavy vehicles for a living.
The standards, which apply to some processors and suppliers, take effect Aug. 1. And they include certified testing of some full-time forklift operators.
In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed mandatory verification measures for all federal workers. The proposal, expected to become official later this year, would require test results to be sent to a certified laboratory for verification and for an outside medical review officer to confirm that results are accurate.
About 25 million drug tests conducted each year by U.S. employers use such validity standards, said Robert Stephenson, HHS director of workplace programs.
``A lot of companies think they're doing a good job testing for drugs,'' Stephenson said. ``But if they aren't regulating their tests, they might not have the benefit of actually catching the cheaters.''
Other HHS regulations would allow certified labs to test hair follicles and saliva for drug use and use breath tests for alcohol. Those regulations may go into effect next year. If they do, many companies will use them as the gold standard for private testing programs, said Barry Sample, director of science and technology for corporate health and welfare with certified lab group Quest Diagnostics Inc. of Teterboro, N.J.
Hair and saliva tests frequently detect drugs in the system for as long as 30 days, Sample said. Meanwhile, urine tests primarily are useful to find drugs taken within the past 24 hours, he said.
Quest publishes a Drug Testing Index that measures workplace drug use. For the first half of 2000, 4.7 percent of about 3 million workplace drug tests sampled positive.
The rate was the same in 1999. But only 0.12 percent of employees tested positive for oxidizing adulterants that can alter test results, Sample said. The number was about half that of 1999 figures.
``It's a reflection that more companies are doing drug testing,'' Sample said. ``Employees know what the sign in the window means. Those people may be choosing not to apply to companies that do certified drug tests.''
They might be going to smaller companies that don't test workers. Companies with fewer than 250 employees are less likely than larger ones to screen for pre-employment problems, said Dean Suposs, president and chief executive officer of Avert Inc., a company in Fort Collins, Colo., that conducts background checks.
``They wait until after an accident, or when someone steals, or when someone with a history of violent behavior beats up another employee,'' said Suposs. ``They wait until the horses are out until they fix the fence.''
The use of outside labs has been a boon to thermoformer Containerware Inc. of Phoenix.
During one round of pre-employment screening, a worker tested negative for drug use, said President Ronald Francken. But upon analysis, the lab saw something fishy in the results.
The attending physician at the medical center advised a retest, and the results were positive, Francken said.
``That particular doctor could not tell me the guy was cheating on the first try,'' Francken said. ``But the second time did the trick. We're delighted to have those kinds of workers screened out.''