On Your Side Investigation: Higher or fired

On Your Side Investigation: Higher or fired
Source: WBRC video

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - New federal drug testing standards for some companies are taking effect Monday, testing for more opioids in potential new employees for some federal contractors than ever before.

And our new On Your Side Investigation finds this testing may be long overdue.

The best way to get a handle on how many of your coworkers may have a problem with opioid abuse is to look at the numbers, and at first they can be confusing.

The latest data from drug screening company Employment Screening Services shows about 5 percent of potential employees fail a drug screening test, and only about 10 percent of those failed tests are because of opioids.

How can that be in a state where doctors write more prescriptions for opioids than there are people living in Alabama?

"We are just not seeing the failure rates that you would expect," says Brian Pitts, managing partner at Vestavia Hills staffing company ITAC Solutions. "We believe that this is not fake news, the opioid epidemic is very real."

"The reason for that is because a lot of employers don't really know that the standard panels don't include things like Loritab and Oxycontin, which are 2 of the most-abused prescription opioids," says Scott Kitchens, VP of Drug & Health at Employment Screening Services.

Those standard drug screening panel only includes 5 or 10 drugs---and not only does it not include some heavily-abused prescriptions, it also doesn't test for Fentanyl. If it did?

"It would be tremendously higher," Kitchens says.

"We'd be fooling ourselves to think it's not at every level of employment from the C-suite all the way down to the factory floor, so it's a big deal," Pitts says.

Pitts says his biggest problem right now is there aren't enough qualified applicants in Birmingham to fill the jobs that companies have open. Pitts thinks most of that is a lack of skills training.

"Your labor force participation rate and the abuse of these opioids are pretty intertwined," Pitts says. "We have a lot of people not looking for work, they've dropped out of the workforce. Are they dropping out because they're addicted or are they becoming addicted because they have time on their hands?"

"It's at every level whether it's a professional hire or an entry-level assembly job," says Ed Castile, Deputy Secretary of Commerce. "It's a problem at every level."

But new federal testing standards taking effect Monday may help. The new testing standards for any company working on a federal contract adds 4 new opiates (Hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, oxymorphin) to the standard screening list.

"I think states that just basically own it and do their best to counteract it are states that are gonna be successful and I believe we're pretty good at it," Castile says.

Those new federal standards for drug screening go into effect Monday, and most private companies look to these federal rules to set their policies. But because most employees are only screened when they're hired, it may take years for these new testing standards to really work.

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