Tuesday, January 04, 2005


The drug test: A new weapon for the bureaucrat?

Drug testing is another industry that, like prisons, continues to grow as rights are stripped from citizens by corporations for the benefit of corporations. It is a wonderful and guaranteed-to-be lucrative system. As the largest drug tester, OHS, Inc. brags, "DRUG TESTING EMPLOYEES in your workplace is our CORE business!" They also explain the necessity of drug testing with some "facts"—

  1. Today, just 'one' country - a country with only 'five' percent (5%) of the entire world's population - buys and consumes fully sixty percent (60%) of the entire world's supply of illicit drugs.
  2. That 'one' country is our United States.
  3. In the United States, 77% of all illicit drug users are EMPLOYED!

OHS provides some data on how extensive and costly the testing is—

During 2003, an estimated 55 million drug tests were performed in the United States on job applicants, existing employees who were randomly tested, employees who had or caused a workplace accident or injury, certain federal and state prisoners, certain parolees, recovering addicts, moms or dads who were drug tested by court-order as a result of child custody cases, et al. More than 90% of those 55 million drug tests were performed using urine specimens, not blood.

... [U]rine test cost probably averages $44. Hair specimen testing is about $115-$150 per test nationally.

Let's see. That works out to be (.91 x 55,000,000 x $44) + (.09 x 55,000,000 x $115), or $2.8 billion annually, conservatively estimated. Not bad.

Of the list of people being tested, you will note the omission of politicians1 and police officers. But a number of police are being tested, at least in Massachusetts.

An article in yesterday's Boston Globe points to a new weapon in the bureaucratic arsenal—the drug test. According to Benjamin Gedan,

The Somerville police union asserts that the police chief is punishing officers who criticize him by deciding when to send officers for mandatory drug tests rather than allow the outside laboratory to handle random testing.2

A union grievance and a threatened federal lawsuit are based on the contention that, to stifle dissent, Chief George F. McLean is interfering in drug testing, said Jim Hyde, union president.

The Chief has his comeback—

The testing is managed by the department's Office of Professional Standards, McLean said. Assertions that he is meddling are "union rhetoric," McLean said. "Their claims are completely false and unwarranted. It's a tool we use to keep officers safe from the perils of drugs."

Safety from the perils of drugs is apparently not uppermost in the minds of the rank and file of police—

Drug testing is often a contentious issue in collective bargaining, and in Boston, at least, it was imposed at a high cost. In 1998, Boston police patrolmen accepted a regular drug test in exchange for hefty incentives, including pay bonuses for college and advanced degrees, known as the Quinn Bill. In contrast, Brookline officers are not subject to drug tests because the issue has not been negotiated with the union, said Captain John O'Leary, a department spokesman.

The issue generates controversy in government, too. The federal government has been ordering urinalysis since 1988 for employees of the FBI, CIA, and other agencies. But a recent proposal to broaden testing to hair and saliva analysis drew 2,000 written comments and the issue is still under review, said Charles Lodico, a chemist at the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

All of this leads me to wonder how often the threat of a drug test is being used to keep dissenters in line throughout state and federal bureaucracies, not to mention corporations. Failing a drug test would not only imperil the dissenter's job, it would also be a very effective way of discrediting anything he or she might have to say. Is the situation in Somerville, Massachusetts, an aberration or the tip of the iceberg?


1 Any intrusion into privacy and personal rights as significant as drug testing should begin at the top. George Bush, a former cokehead, has been acting erratically ever since he took office. Isn't it time he be tested? [back]

2 I am in total sympathy with the Chief. I have always felt that anyone who disagrees with me must be on drugs. Unlike the Chief, I have no way to prove it. [back]

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