A rant against drug testing for employment

A rant against drug testing for employment

This post isn’t a rant against The Internet, seeing as we’re on the same side of this issue, but against drug testing as a condition of employment.

Illinois is on the verge of legalizing medical marijuana for the *very* ill, but without the proviso that those with prescriptions are safe from employers who drug test. Gee, how could that go wrong?

I recently had to take a drug test as part of a job application for an institution that receives government funds and I was on Sudafed for a nasty sinus infection. Prepared to explain why I tested positive for amphetamines if they took the shortcut and didn’t use the metabolites that would differentiate, I started to wonder why the hell this is legal in the first place. If you’re being treated for chronic pain, Multiple Sclerosis, attention disorders, neuropathy, anorexia, or any number of other problems, it is not unlikely that you’d test positive for opiates, amphetamines, or even THC (thanks to those weird new sprays).

In no particular order, the effed up aspects of this are as follows:

1. Prescriptions may not get you off the hook.

If you live in an at-will state, which I do, employers don’t have to excuse your test results just because a doctor thought it medically prudent or necessary to put you on the stuff. It’s also not like doctors or the pamphlets that come with your medications will always leave you with a clear idea of whether or not you’ll test positive, either. I was prescribed Tramadol once and thought for sure that if I took it, I’d test positive for opiates in my urine as a result. Apparently not.

2. The ADA goes out the window.

Threads on The Internet think that you should be fine in this scenario as long as you have valid prescriptions. First off, I’m not sure having to disclose prescriptions as part of a pre-employment screening, even to the third party testing company, is legal. Second, if an employer will excuse positive test results only if shown a prescription or doctor’s note, then they’ve learned more about your health status than they were otherwise legally allowed to as part of the interview process. Pretty damn sneaky, if you ask me. Obviously, employers have to protect themselves and other employees to some extent. Surely, though, there are better ways than this. Which brings me to the next point…

3. Your employment woes may be because of drug use that doesn’t even cause impairment or addiction.

Who says that a positive result for a prescription drug causes impairment or that a positive result for any drug indicates addiction? On the first point:

“In general,” said Dr. Seddon R. Savage, a pain specialist at Dartmouth College and president of the American Pain Society, “well-prescribed opioids at a stable dose that are well supervised in most healthy people won’t cause sedation or other cognitive problems.”

On the second, marijuana has a VERY low risk of dependence and even then, withdrawal includes… ya know, all the symptoms you were using it to treat in the first place (insomnia, loss of appetite, depression).

Marijuana has been decriminalized in many places, including the City of Chicago. Why is it that I can be fined if a cop finds marijuana in my possession, but I can be fired or denied employment if an employer finds any amount in me? Obviously the answer is that places receiving federal funding have to comply with federal law, but c’mon, the federal law (and related international treaties) are past their expiration date, if you ask the American people. Fifty-two-ish percent think it should be outright legal and 73 percent think medical cannabis should be legal.

So for you Illinoisans with cancer, AIDS, MS, spinal cord injuries, Crohn’s, and other chronic illnesses, I’m sorry for the Catch-22 that you may soon face.

I’ll keep this post short because I’m at no loss for related rants about drug policies in the U.S., but if you’re an ACLU-type, do me a favor: Start suing the bejesus out of employers who get away with pre-employment drug tests as a means of deciding whether or not you’re worth your weight in insurance?

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