When Did Drug Testing Start Being Used by Companies and Why?
When did employer drug testing get started? How did it become so prevalent? Let’s look at the history of drug testing and how it came to be.
Drug testing has been a part of the American workforce for many years. In applying for a number of jobs, it’s understood that you’ll have to pass a drug screening first. Then, once you have the job, you may be subjected to more periodic or even random testing, throughout your entire term of employment. How did this practice get started? How did it become so prevalent? Let’s look at the history of drug testing and how it came to be.
The first drug tests weren’t meant for people, but for animals. In the late 19th century, when cocaine and morphine rose to prominence, they would often be used on racehorses, to help one win and another lose. The first drug tests were developed by Russia, testing the horses’ saliva for the presence of banned substances. By the 1930s, these drug tests had come to the United States and were common practice before many races.
Testing people for drugs first became common in the 1970s. Drug use abounded among American soldiers in Vietnam, and for many of them, continued after they came home. In 1971, President Nixon directed the U.S. Military to enact drug testing procedures, and the Army, Navy, and Air Force all created panels to implement his directive.
The War on Drugs
So when did it become commonplace for companies to drug test their employees? Early in his presidency, Ronald Reagan expanded the war on drugs, and the government began to crack down on drug sales and drug use across the country.
In 1986, drug testing became required for federal employees. Two years later, the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 was passed. This required not just federal departments, but many companies that were federal contractors, and any company receiving federal grants, to guarantee that all of their employees would remain drug-free, as a condition of their contracts or grants.
This meant ramping up drug testing considerably. It continued to expand through George H.W. Bush’s presidency and on through the 90s. By 1996, 81% of employers reported drug testing their employees.
Drug Testing Today
While the war on drugs is still ongoing in the federal government, it isn’t as significant as it was in the 80s and 90s. As such, drug testing in the workplace has gone down a bit. In 2004, a reported 62% of employers were drug testing, and the number has likely decreased further since then. As many states and cities legalize cannabis, the fear of drugs that was once so prominent in our collective consciousness is waning, and the zealous demand for testing is no longer as high a priority. In fact, many are arguing that it’s an unfair and racist practice and calling for its end—and many states are following suit, severely limiting and even prohibiting drug testing as a condition of employment.
However, there’s still a long way to go. Many states do still allow companies to drug test employees, practically whenever and however they like. Even in many of the states that regulate testing, the problems of unfairness and racism remain.
It’s important to know your rights with regards to drug testing. What can your employer require of you, and when are they stepping over the line? It’s also important to know how to pass these drug tests, so as not to put your job in jeopardy.