Meet the Druggies

Meet the Druggies

by Kerry Scott on 23 October 2009


When I asked some of my HR/recruiting colleagues for their own cluefree tales, a lot of their responses involved drug testing. Here are a few:

  • One candidate showed up for an interview looking completely strung out. He could barely walk. The interviewer asked just enough questions to be polite, and then asked the candidate if he had any questions. The candidate said, “Yes, uhhh, do you guys do drug testing?” The recruiter lied and said they did, hoping to discourage him. The candidate said, “Well, I could probably pass if we could put this off for a few weeks. Would that be okay?”
  • Another candidate was hired, and they sent him for the drug test the day he started. The results came back with an adulterated sample. The candidate insisted this was a mistake, and asked to speak to the Medical Review Officer (MRO—the third-party medical expert who oversees this stuff). The manager, the HR person, and the candidate got the MRO on the phone. The MRO said that if the sample had indeed come from the candidate, he’d better get to the hospital immediately, because his urine had the same acidity as battery acid. The HR person and the manager looked at each other, then ended the call. The candidate quietly said he’d grab his stuff and go. On his way out, he asked if they’d be willing to give him a good reference, for one day of work, when he failed the drug test and made them call the MRO to boot.  They declined.
  • The next candidate had actually been with the company for about four months as a temp, and kept asking when he wag going to do his drug test so he could be hired as a regular employee. Finally his day came, and when he reported to work he was sent off to do his drug test. He gave his sample, and then disappeared. They never saw him again. Turns out he had the trifecta—marijuana (which stays in your system for weeks), cocaine (which stays in your system for a day or two), and heroin (which stays in your system for a few hours). This meant that the guy had actually done heroin before coming to work that day, even though he knew he was going to be tested any day so that they could hire him. You have to wonder why he bothered to go and give the sample at all.

I also had a candidate once whose urine sample came back as non-human. This was before the internet, so you couldn’t just buy it online like you can now. You had to collect your animal urine the old-fashioned way.

Clue:  Just say no.  You’re not going to beat the drug test.  Really.

Tales of the Cluefree appear pretty much every Friday. Past stories are here.

Photo by marxchivist

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Charles October 23, 2009 at 8:43 am

“You had to collect your animal urine the old-fashioned way.”

I really wish that I hadn’t read that – ewwww!

Steph McDonald October 23, 2009 at 9:19 am

I know someone who faked a drug test and it worked. She was a nurse. Seriously.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 23, 2009 at 9:42 am

Wow. That’s horrifying.

I’d ask you how she did it, but I really don’t want to put that on the internet so someone else can use it.

A nurse…wow.

Sabrina October 23, 2009 at 9:59 am

I have a friend who’s ex husband made her supply her urine for his drug test which he knew he’d fail. Well they called him up and told him that not only did he fail but also congratulations on his pregnancy.

Erin October 23, 2009 at 11:53 am

My company gives new hires both a drug screen and an alcohol screen (breathalyzer not blood screen) – the new-hires know that there will be an alcohol screen, it is not a surprise. When I started at the company, I thought giving an alcohol screen was the most ridiculous thing ever, I mean no one would actually show up for their pre-hire drug test drunk, right? Wrong.

I had a woman show up for her drug screen paperwork (at about 10AM), she smelled and looked liked she’d been drinking, but we give new-hires a 5-day period to get their drug screen done, so she had some time before she needed to complete the screen. I’ll never know why, but she decided to take the alcohol screen right then, and she didn’t pass (you have to have over .04 to fail, and she was over that amount. Her excuse was that she’d been partying the night before and she must have still been drunk (how late do you have to party, and how much do you have to drink to still be drunk at around 10:30AM?). I reminded her that he had been her choice to take the test when she did. It didn’t matter anyway because she failed her drug screen too.

Anonymous October 23, 2009 at 12:41 pm


This doesn’t have to do with pre-employment screens, but… given your airline background, I’m sure you recall giving out drug tests to current employees for a variety of reasons. At every aviation company I have ever worked for, the policy was always that you got paid to give your sample… for as long as it took for you to give one. And since I worked nights, that also meant for as long as it took them to find the lab tech, wake him up, and get him where he needed to be.

I once drank so much fluid before giving a sample (I didn’t want to stick around all night) that the tech told me that had it been a DOT test, they would have disqualified me. (For some strange reason that I could never figure out, ramp agents weren’t “covered” employees under the DOT drug testing rules, but flight attendants were.)

One time, I was on the midnight shift, and I ended up making $100 in overtime pay just to give a sample. I was proud of that one…

Hank Hill October 23, 2009 at 12:46 pm

I don’t understand the emphasis on drug screens. You can generally tell when someone shows up strung out. If they do, don’t hire them.

And let’s be honest- how is smoking marijuana on one’s off hours going to affect their job performance? I’d really like for someone to explain that to me. I don’t even use marijuana, but I still think that testing for it is absurd- especially since it stays in your system for such a long time after you’ve used it. Someone could have last smoked two weeks ago and still test positive. If they were a heavy pot smoker, it could still be there six months after the last time they used.

Jobu October 23, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Ridiculous that people even have to do drug tests, unless they are working as pilots or firefighters. Manage to performance. If someone smokes weed on occasion but is brilliant, you fire them?
I tell you- you Americans are messed up.

Sabrina October 23, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Well Kerry DID work for an airline and I’ll wager she knows quite a few people in that industry. So likely they ARE pilots, Jobu. Other countries have their hiring quirks too, it’s not just America.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 23, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Anonymous—I never understood why rampers weren’t covered either…but then, the government makes lots of decisions I don’t understand.

Hank and Jobu—actually, my personal feeling is that there are lots of jobs where I don’t care that much whether someone smokes pot on the weekends. If the company has a random testing policy, I support and administer the policy, because that’s my job…but I’ve never suggested a company implement one.

But there are some jobs where I definitely care if you use drugs anytime. Jobu, you mentioned pilots and firefighters, and I’d agree with those…but I also don’t want a doctor, or a nurse, or a cop, or a semi driver, or a bunch of other people who are recreational drug users. In jobs where someone’s safety is on the line, it makes a difference (to me anyway).

With pre-employment testing, though, my feeling is this: you’re looking for a job. You know there’s going to be a drug test for most jobs. If you can’t refrain until after you’ve passed the pre-employment test, you probably aren’t in control of your usage…and that IS a problem, because if you can’t refrain long enough to get through this test, maybe you can’t refrain when you’re having a tough day at work. Also, you’re probably too stupid to work here. In all of the examples above, aside from the illegal drug use, those people were just too stupid to employ.

I have heard that companies pay lower worker’s compensation insurance rates if they implement a random drug testing policy (benefits management is not my area of expertise, though, so I can’t attest to this firsthand). Sometimes people think companies implement these rules because of some moral crusade, but like so many things, it’s really a bottom-line decision. If a random-testing program keeps my insurance rates lower, then my need to save money trumps your need to smoke pot on the weekends. That’s just how companies roll.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t smoke pot. I don’t do any drugs (well, actually, I do lots of allergy drugs, but that’s it). I don’t even drink. I’m high on life (actually, I’m high on Diet Coke and ice cream…which is part of my life).

Deadhedge October 23, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Per Steph’s comments on faking out a drug test, it’s actually really not that hard which makes these stories even more clue free. I’ll try not to provide the details per your request, but I figured it out through out reading the ingredients on a certain purchase and a nurse’s comment about vitamins.
.-= Deadhedge´s last blog ..How Health Care Reform Can Help the Networks: New Ideas for TV shows =-.

jmkenrick October 23, 2009 at 4:40 pm

In response to the people who were interested in the usefullness of drug testing: I don’t remember the exact numbers, in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickeled and Dimed, she gives some interesting statistics on drug testing.

Basically, she shows numbers which indicated that the government spends tens of thousands of dollars for each goverment employee fired due to failing a drug test. She also argues that, since drug-using employees are more likely to be poor workers anyway, they tend to weed themselves out after awhile; and that there’s very little evidence drug testing increases productivity.

Kerry and Jobu:
I’m a little confused about what you guys are saying. Do you think people in these professions shouldn’t be allowed to use drugs at all, or just during working hours?

Disclaimer: I think alcohol is a drug too, and I find it silly that people don’t make a distinction between it and other drugs when it comes to the hiring process. Mind-altering is mind-altering, legal or not.

Hank Hill October 23, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I do agree that if you can’t hold it together and abstain for a couple of weeks to pass a drug test, then you have a problem.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 23, 2009 at 5:25 pm

jmkenrick—I think drugs are illegal, and therefore people shouldn’t use them.

But I think it makes way more sense to spend time and money for an employer to make sure a pilot is not using drugs than, say, a mail room clerk. If a pilot is a drug user, the potential cost to the company, both in terms of dollars and human life, is enormous. If the mail room clerk is a drug user, the cost is not the same.

That’s not to say that it’s okay if the mail room clerk is on drugs at work (because that can still create problems…and it’s still illegal). But drug testing is expensive to administer, and I’m not sure the cost-benefit is always there for a job like mail room clerk (unless you’re getting the aforementioned insurance discount to offset the cost). I’d agree that if his drug use is at all frequent enough to be a problem, it’s going to manifest itself in his performance, and he’ll get fired anyway. That’s cheaper and more reliable than random drug testing.

My comments only apply to random tests done after someone’s hired. I’m cool with pre-employment and for-cause/post-accident testing for EVERYONE, no question.

Again, these are my personal views…but I don’t have a *problem* with randoms. I just think they’re unlikely to be cost-effective for many positions, based on my experience.

abdpbt October 23, 2009 at 6:45 pm

You would be surprised by how many nurses and doctors are recovering alcoholics/addicts. This means there are way more of them who are still using in the profession. The show Nurse Jackie is very accurate from what I’ve learned about addicts in the medical profession.

And yeah, as a recovering alcoholic, I’m most surprised by how dumb these addicts are, not by the fact that they were using. Most alcoholics/addicts are wily and have acute criminal minds, you’ve probably hired quite a few without realizing it. These people were weeded out more because they are stupid than because of the drug testing!
.-= abdpbt´s last blog ..Wabbit Seasoning =-.

class factotum October 24, 2009 at 10:33 am

since drug-using employees are more likely to be poor workers anyway

Not necessarily true, although perhaps my three data points are an anomaly. I know a doctor, a lawyer, and a teacher who all smoke pot regularly. They are all successful in their careers.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Marriage 201, Lectre 533: You can’t handle the truth =-.

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