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Companies Need To Educate Themselves Before Testing Workers, Study Says

July 23, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ Companies that want to test their employees for drug abuse should educate themselves first, because many of the methods available yield results that won’t hold up in court, a new study says.

Many laboratories doing a high volume of drug tests fail to keep scrupulous records of how they handle urine samples, resulting in possible mix-ups, an author of the study Thursday.

Companies instituting drug tests thus need to learn which of hundreds of U.S. labs doing drug testing are most reputable and which tests have been found easiest to defend legally, said Robert E. Finnigan, co-author of the study published in Friday’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Five major kinds of tests are now used to detect drugs in urine, but since most experts agree that any positive test result must be confirmed by another test, many combinations of tests are possible, the study said.

″If you have an experienced toxicologist, you could defend any of the methods that involve both screening and confirmation, given enough time,″ said Finnigan, founder of Finnigan Corp. of San Jose, Calif. His company makes mass spectrometers, an instrument used in drug testing and other chemical analyses.

Interviews with 25 acknowledged testing experts indicated two combinations of tests have most successfully withstood challenges, the researchers said.

One is called the enzyme multiple immunoassay test, or EMIT, backed by a procedure called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, or GC-MS, considered the ″gold standard″ of drug tests, the researchers said.

The other is radioimmunoassay, or RIA, also backed by GC-MS, they said.

Prices for such tests vary too widely to quote, especially since different labs often charge different prices depending on the volume of tests they do for any one company, the study said.

But prices for single-test screening generally vary from $5 to $20, with confirmations using the GC-MS test varying from $30 to $100, they said.

At least as important as the type of test is the way it is handled, said Finnigan.

″It’s very important to keep track of the sample from the time you collect it until the results are reported,″ he said in a telephone interview. ″More errors are made in that area than in any other area.″

Employee drug testing is becoming increasingly common, noted Finnigan and his co-authors, who included a pathologist, toxicologist-lawyer and business administration graduate involved in drug testing of Olympic bicyclers.

In 1985, 18 percent of Fortune 500 companies conducted some form of drug testing, but by 1986, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated that 40 percent had implemented urinalysis programs for this purpose, they wrote.

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