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Employee Drug Testing: Study Shows Improved Productivity and Attendance and Decreased Workers’ Compensation and Turnover

Human resource professionals were asked about their organizations’ drug testing programs and
reported the following perceptions after the implementation of a drug testing program: One-fifth
(19%) of companies experienced an increase in employee productivity after the implementation of a drug testing program, employers with high absenteeism rates (more than 15%) reported a drop from
9% to 4% after implementing a drug testing program, an improvement of 56%; companies with high
workers’ compensation incidence rates (more than 6%) reported a drop from 14% to 6% after
implementing drug testing programs, an improvement of 57%; and 16% of companies reported a net
employee turnover decrease. Additional research needs to be conducted to further confirm these
findings, but this initial pilot study suggests that drug testing has a positive impact in companies
creating a more productive, safe, and stable workforce.

More than half of employers (57 percent) conduct drug tests on all job candidates, while only 29 percent do not conduct drug tests on any job candidates, according to a poll released today by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in collaboration with and commissioned by the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA). The SHRM/ DATIA poll – Drug Testing Efficacy – found that some employers noticed an impact on employee productivity, absenteeism and workers compensation incidence rates after implementing drug testing programs.


Drug testing of employees is a relatively new tool used in the last 20 years for evaluating candidates
for employment and to promote safety in the workplace. Drug testing as we know it today, did not
exist prior to 1980. However, in 1981 the crash of a Navy jet on the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier
resulted in the death and injury of scores of enlisted men. Unfortunately, drug testing revealed the
presence of drugs in not only that aircraft carrier’s personnel but widespread in the military (1, 2).
This led to a series of investigations and President Ronald Regan issuing Executive Order 12564,
mandating a drug free federal workplace. Seven years after the crash and extensive study, the
Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing was published in 1988 (3). This provided
the United States with the framework for establishing drug testing, not only for federal employees,
but contractors and non-mandated industries as well. It is now widely acknowledged that the United
States has the most extensive, medically confidential, and well-designed drug testing program in the
world and has set the standard for drug testing globally.
As the mandated drug testing program for federal employees developed in the early 1990s and the
legal and technical challenges for drug testing were all successfully met, drug testing was embraced
by non-mandated industries such as retail and construction. The non-mandated testing spread using,
as its basis, the Federal mandated program elements that were proven in the field for years.
However, since the international financial crisis there have been questions about the return on
investment for drug testing leading some companies not to implement a drug testing program. These
questions persist at the same time close to a trillion dollars a year are lost to drug abuse in our nation
alone and the benefits of drug testing to help stem this loss are consistently reported (4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
Unfortunately, there has not been any research in this area for over a decade so the Drug and Alcohol
Testing Industry Association (DATIA) funded a project to obtain the current opinions of human
resource professionals about drug testing. DATIA felt this study was important to understand why
some companies still do not have drug testing programs when the data generated by the Quest Return
On Investment calculations suggest that a drug testing program provides a significant return on
investment (9, 10). Also, with the U.S. drug abuse epidemic spreading away from conventional street
drugs such as heroin, marijuana and cocaine to pharmaceuticals, designer drugs, synthetic drugs such as bath salts and spice the employee drug abuse problem will only grow in the future. This shift has been documented and followed since early 2000 by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and
Justice Department, and an action plan has been developed to address this growing problem (11).
Unfortunately there has been little research on the cost benefits of establishing a drug testing program
over the past decade (12, 13, 14, 15). In order to address this question, DATIA commissioned the
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to help with the design of the study and the
tabulation of the findings outlined in this report. The study was conducted March 2011.

The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice

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