Pre-employment drug screenings, a decades-long staple of the American hiring process, may soon be a thing of the past.
According to Bloomberg, it’s an eye-opening sign of the times that many American companies are now looking to abandon drug screenings.
As employers continue to struggle to fill roles in an ever-tightening job market, not to mention dealing with loosened state-by-state laws around marijuana use, companies are looking for solutions wherever possible.
In many cases, that means adjusting their corporate strategies around substances: rather than preventing new hires from joining their ranks, they’re more focused on providing support for employees who might be challenged by problematic drug use.
“We don’t care what people do in their free time,” one healthcare company’s spokesperson told Bloomberg. “We want to help these people, instead of saying: ‘Hey, you can’t work for us because you used a substance.’”
Last year, a survey of employers in Colorado (a state where recreational and medicinal marijuana is prevalent) showed that the number of companies testing for pot fell to 66%, down from 77% just the year before. All signs point toward that trend continuing, too.
“Drug testing restricts the job pool, and in the current tight labor market, that’s having an impact on productivity and growth,” Bloomberg observed.
In other words, many applicants simply can’t pass a required drug test, with Quest Diagnostics data indicating that “failed tests reached an all-time high in 2017.” (In opioid-ravaged Ohio, some employers have even gotten ahead of themselves, putting workers out on factory floors before their failed drug-test results came in.)
“The benefits of at least reconsidering the drug policy on behalf of an employer would be pretty high,” Mercer Law School professor Dr. Jeremy Kidd told Bloomberg. “A blanket prohibition can’t possibly be the most economically efficient policy.”
With unemployment currently at 4% in the U.S., companies are now being forced to re-evaluate what they care about and what they don’t when it comes to their workforce.
In fact, many large employers “have quietly changed their [drug] policies in recent years,” Bloomberg noted, adding that those same companies have been careful to avoid advertising that fact.
“Pre-employment testing is no longer worth the expense in a society increasingly accepting of drug use,” the story said. (One Gallup poll echoed this sentiment, finding that 64% of Americans currently favor drug legalization.)
But not everyone is ready to throw in the towel when it comes to pre-employment drug screenings. A recent survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports showed that 61% of American adults believe that drug testing “should be required for all or most jobs.” (26% disagreed, while 13% weren’t sure.)
High-profile companies like Burger King and Ford Motor Co. haven’t changed their corporate policies against marijuana use, either. And regardless of America’s relaxing attitudes toward substance use, many jobs will always require drug testing, no matter what.
Bloomberg cited heavy-machinery jobs as one example where pre-employment drug screenings would remain firmly in place. “Companies are also reserving the right to test after an accident or if an employee comes to work notably impaired,” Bloomberg noted, underscoring the fact that companies that forego pre-employment screenings aren’t automatically drug-friendly.
“We assume that a certain level of employees are going to be partaking on the weekends. We don’t care,” an employment lawyer summed it up for Bloomberg. “We’re going to exclude a whole group of people, and we desperately need workers.”
With America caught in the throes of the opioid epidemic, researchers and drugmakers alike continue to suggest that the answer lies in marijuana-based painkillers. In fact, a number of studies also hint that medical cannabis might be the magic bullet everyone is looking for.
Not so fast, some key experts said at the Forbes Healthcare Summit. Dr. Tom Frieden, the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under President Obama, leveled sharp criticism at the idea of marijuana replacing opioids as viable painkillers. Frieden, who now spearheads the non-profit Resolve to Save Lives—a $225 million, five-year global health campaign—was quick to say medical marijuana won’t end the crisis.
“The huge problem with legalization is that in the current legal context of the U.S., if you legalize a product you cannot restrict its market, and what we’re looking at is the prospect of having Big Tobacco paralleled by Big Marijuana actively promoting marijuana use,” Frieden said. “It could be very harmful for some people and some communities. That said, there may be a role for some individuals, and obviously this is a tough issue.”
Currently legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, medical marijuana continues to grow and expand in the U.S. As such, drug companies like GW Pharmaceuticals and Cara Therapeutics are actively looking to exploit marijuana as a less harmful alternative to opioids, a Forbes piece said.
Yet there aren’t enough research studies to prove that it’s a sustainable solution. At the summit, the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s deputy director Wilson Compton observed that the studies that do exist tend to be too few and far between. “While it looks like there’s a general signal, we don’t know who the marijuana, or the cannabinoids within the plant, might be useful for,” Compton said. “And that’s where I think research needs to move.”
Compton echoes the stance of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which still considers marijuana to be a Schedule I drug, defined as having no accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse.
“Could marijuana be a life raft out of this sea of painkillers?” AC Shilton asked in a Vice storyfrom earlier this year. Using Tennessee as an example, the writer examined how the state maintains that marijuana is illegal in every application while lawmakers vote against limiting opioid prescriptions even while record numbers of overdoses happen under their watch.
“It's a life raft with a slow leak at best,” Shilton considered, though “a leaky raft starts to look pretty appealing” when it comes to the opioid epidemic. Still, it’s not so much the research that’s confounding as it is all the legalities around marijuana, which are “confusing, especially for medical professionals.”
All that red tape means that continuing marijuana research is, at best, a nightmare to secure federal research money. (Interestingly, the Vice piece notes that “it’s easier to score research grants if your hypothesis is one testing the negative impacts of [marijuana].”)
We shouldn’t let red tape tangle up marijuana’s potential as a painkiller, Andrew Kolodny told attendees at the healthcare summit. Kolodny, the co-director of Brandeis University’s Opioid Policy Research Collaborative, thinks medical pot isn’t a perfect solution—but it’s something.
“If I had a patient who was suffering from severe intractable pain and had tried everything, I would sooner try marijuana on a patient than heroin,” he said. “When you are prescribing opioids, you are essentially giving them heroin.”
And given that 60,000 Americans died from drug-related overdoses last year alone, it seems irresponsible to not try everything possible to save lives.