In the 1980’s a Conrail train crashed into an Amtrak passenger train, killing sixteen people. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that both the Conrail engineer and train operator had been smoking marijuana at the time of the accident and found this to be the probable cause. This accident, in addition to a plane crash on the USS Nimitz, provided the initial impetus for workplace drug testing. 

In the 1990’s, in response to these two accidents, Congress passed the 1991 Omnibus Transportation Act. This act required mandatory drug testing for all federally regulated employers and all individuals regulated by the DOT who operate large equipment. Under this act, urine became the specimen for drug testing and breath the specimen for alcohol testing. 

As drug testing in the workplace became more commonplace, a new role was also created to review drug test results and ensure their accuracy and integrity. This role, known as a Medical Review Officer (MRO) must be filled by a licensed physician.

When workplace drug testing began, urine was the most commonly used specimen. In an effort to avoid detection, people began to develop ways to alter their urine causing the specimen to become a less reliable method of testing. Now, many employers choose to use hair or oral fluid specimens when testing their employees. These specimens are more difficult to subvert. 

Today. the specimens used for testing are more reliable and the overall process of testing more efficient. New technologies offer automated solutions for testing employees. These platforms improve workflow, reduce the number of steps in the process, and make ordering tests a breeze. Employers are also able to quickly view the status of an employee’s drug test resulting in faster time-to-hire. 

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that 70 percent of an estimated 14.8 million U.S. individuals who use illegal drugs are employed, and drug abuse in the workplace costs employers almost $81 billion dollars a year. Drug testing in the workplace is sill necessary in keeping both employer and employee safe. Fortunately, advances in procedure and technology have made testing a better experience for everyone involved.