Recommendations on drug and alcohol testing during COVID-19

Nov 10, 2020

In a recent opinion piece published in the Health and Safety Magazine, Christine Clearwater, president of Drug-Free Solutions Group, a risk management and loss control consulting firm, made recommendations to employers regarding drug and alcohol testing during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, many employers are uncertain whether they should maintain or make changes to their ongoing drug and alcohol testing programs. Meanwhile, drug and alcohol abuse has increased since the start of the pandemic, due to various factors including stress and loss of employment, as well as social distancing.

Due to increased use of illicit drugs, including opioids, there has been a corresponding increase in overdose-related deaths. In addition, sales of alcoholic beverages and legal cannabis products have also augmented significantly.

“Risk mitigation is broadly defined as steps taken to control or prevent a hazard from causing harm and to reduce risk to a tolerable or acceptable level. No employer can completely protect itself against the use and misuse of drugs and alcohol. But now, more than ever, employers need to create their strategy to address and lessen the effects of these threats, all while taking into consideration the company’s industry,” Clearwater said.

Amid growing concerns regarding substance use in the workplace, employers and test providers have reported a decrease in drug testing. The reduction in drug testing can be attributed to decreased workforce, as well as employees working remotely and reduced hiring rates.

In addition, some employers have modified, temporarily suspended or terminated their testing procedures. According to studies, more than half of employers surveyed have kept their testing programs. Moreover, some employers have modified testing programs, and switched to onsite oral fluid testing or ceased pre-employment testing for cannabis. Finally, some employees have opted for telehealth collections, which permits remote observation of collections through a video application.

Since its legalization in many states and in Canada, the use of cannabis among the workforce has increased (most noticeably in the US in the states that have legalized and decriminalized cannabis), leading some employers to consider cessation of cannabis testing.

As part of her advice to employers on cannabis testing, Clearwater recommended employers create a clear policy reflecting their position and apply it consistently.

Clearwater also advised employers that drug testing is increasingly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, as both drug misuse and the coronavirus will likely persist for some time.

“Be aware of state-of-the-art drug testing technologies available today, which are legally defensible, accurate, efficient and cost effective. A company can use more than one methodology for different forms of testing, some of which have longer or shorter windows of detection,” she adds. She advised employers to consider onsite oral fluid testing to reduce costs linked to using off-site collection sites and reducing discomfort for applicants.

“The laws are changing and technology is evolving more rapidly than ever. To ensure a sound, defensible program, it’s advised not to go it alone, but rather seek a consultant or counsel – and stay on course,” she added.