[4] (*) CONTEMPORARY DRUG PROBLEMS, Spring 1992 pp. 1-26, “The business of drug testing: technological innovation and social control” by Prof. Lynn Zimmer and Prof. James B. Jacobs.

 

This expansion of work-place drug testing could not have occurred without important advances in drug testing technology. ...

 

In an important sense, it was the availability of the new technologies that stimulated employers' interests in workers' drug use. Prior to the 1980's, to the extent employers thought about a ``work-place drug problem,'' their concern was with alcoholics and drug addicts, not casual drug users. Only after it became possible to detect casual users did employers begin to focus on them. Thus drug testing should not be seen as a ``technological fix'' for a preexisting problem, but as a technological innovation that helped redefine the problem it initially promised to solve.

 

The redefinition of the work-place drug problem to include casual drug users did not just ``happen.'' It was actively promoted by the drug testing industry, which stood to profit from it, and by the federal government, which had a powerful commitment to a zero-tolerance drug policy. The media also contributed by publishing the economic costs and physical threats posed by drugs in the work-place.

 

Improvements in drug testing's accuracy and reliability led more employers to implement testing programs; as demand expanded, so did the drug-testing industry. Recent (1990) estimates are that drug testing grosses over $300 million a year, but this figure refers only to the equipment and chemicals produced by pharmaceutical companies. Drug testing's increased popularity also benefits laboratories that conduct the tests as well as numerous other businesses that provide goods and services to the pharmaceutical companies, the laboratories, and employers.

 

Recently pharmaceutical companies also began to market on- site testing kits that do not require any machinery. Keystone Diagnostics' KDI Quick Test, for example, selling for $6.50, uses a modified immunoassay technology that allows drugs to be identified through a color-code system. Lacking both the sensitivity and specificity of automated immunoassay, testing kits are unlikely to capture a large segment of the work-place testing market, but they might appeal to parents who wish to test their children for illicit drugs.

 

By 1988 employment drug tests accounted for about 5% of the laboratory industry's $5 billion in revenues, and industry experts expected that figure to double the following year.

 

... The federal government remains committed to work-place drug testing as a strategy in the war on drugs, and Congress keeps expanding the number of private sector workers who are covered under federal guidelines. The drug-testing industry vigorously markets its product to employers, and through the American Drug Use Testing Association it lobbies at the state and federal levels for legislation that will expand its markets. With many organizations, drug testing has become institutionalized, with administrative, legal, and medical staff who now have a stake in its perpetuation. Thus whether or not it delivers on its promises to employers, drug testing is likely to remain a common feature of the American work-place and to play an even more important role in the long search for effective social controls over the use of psychoactive drugs.