Oklahoma employers combat problem of workers under the influence of drugs

Employers find up to 5 percent of workers are drug users; prescription painkillers are today's biggest challenge, representatives of several Oklahoma companies say.
by Paula Burkes Published: August 27, 2012

Her company only a few days before had conducted pre-employment drug testing for a new crew of 20 oil-rig workers, but after Kathy Willingham shared a daylong team-building class with them, she called for immediate retesting.

She suspected many — based on nonparticipation, constant pencil thumping or other signs of agitation — were on drugs.

She was right. Eight of the 20 flunked the retests.

“That was in February 2008, and that was it; that was enough,” said Willingham, vice president of human resources for Oklahoma City-based Cactus Drilling Co., which employs about 1,500 workers across Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

Cactus subsequently moved from urine tests — which cost about $35 and which resourceful drug users can pass by chugging enough water beforehand or substituting urine bought over the Internet — to $110 hair follicle tests, which have a 90-day detection window, versus two days for urine.

Cactus' rate of positive pre-employment drug tests has fallen from 11 percent in 2008 to 5.8 percent year-to-date, Willingham said. Moreover, with more drug-free new hires, it averages under 5 percent positive in its random, and instant, urine tests of its current employees, she said.

Area employers report similarly low rates of positive drug tests, but staffing experts say it's difficult to find qualified workers, especially with Oklahoma's relatively low unemployment rate.

Meanwhile, employers' biggest challenge may be workers under the influence of prescription painkillers, a trend potentially unaffected by new state statutes that give employers greater latitude for workplace drug testing, recruiters say.

In regular random drug and alcohol testing, Edmond-based Duit Construction Co. Inc., which builds roads and bridges, is finding relatively few drug users among its workforce of 400.

“It's been about the same — 5 percent — for the past six years, but of course, any time we see a positive, that's bad,” said Jeff Cover, human resources manager for Duit. “It would be catastrophic, for example, if a driver of a 25,000-pound dump truck carrying weight hit someone.”

Failed drug tests result in immediate termination, Cover said.

Value of screening

In the past year, Kimray Inc., an oil-field equipment manufacturer in Oklahoma City that employs about 800, has fired only three employees for positive tests, human resources manager Nancy Rice said. Before drug testing and hiring full-time employees, Kimray first contracts assemblers and other workers for 90 days through Express Employment Professionals staffing firm, which does its own drug screening of applicants, she said.


by Paula Burkes
Reporter
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Did you know?

Seventy-five percent of drug users are employed. According to the U.S. Justice Department, about 26 million employees are using illegal drugs.

Each drug user can cost a company between $7,000 and $10,000 annually.

Employers who conduct drug screenings typically test for five classes of drugs: marijuana, amphetamines (including meth and Ecstasy), cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP) and opiates (including codeine, morphine and heroin). Upon request, labs will test for other drugs, including the extended opiates oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Lortab).

SOURCE: Psychemedics Corp., a Culver, Calif.-based firm that conducts drug tests based on hair follicles

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