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Drug testing policies vary among Elko County employers

A laboratory technician looks at a drug screen instruction sign Friday at Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital.

ELKO — For many employees, being asked to take a drug test is luck of the draw.

Those with commercial driver’s licenses, for example, are almost guaranteed to receive more drug tests than individuals who work in education.

In an informal survey last week, a selection of Elko County’s largest employers were asked about their drug-testing policies. Reflecting a national trend, the extent and prevalence of drug testing is varied, and largely depends on the industry.

A national poll commissioned by the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association, and conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, showed 71 percent of employers conducted pre-employment drug tests last year. More than 1,000 organizations were contacted, and 80 percent had fewer than 2,500 employees.

The Elko County School District, identified as Elko County’s largest employer by Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, has 1,000 to 1,499 employees. Pre-employment drug testing isn’t required, though the school district has long participated in random drug testing for those with CDLs.

On July 1, 2011, the school district further increased its preventative program and implemented a company-wide drug-testing policy based on reasonable suspicion.

“Numerous other districts across the state have it,” said Assistant Superintendent Mike Smith. “It’s in line with what’s going on, probably nationally and statewide.”

What creates reasonable suspicion is stated in administrative policies and is “fairly detailed,” Smith said. In general, it includes reports from other individuals or observations of an individual’s actions or behavior that suggest he or she is under the influence.

In the six months the policy has been in effect, only two employees have been tested, said Smith, and neither was found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

According to Smith, site administrators handle the policy, and it is the superintendent or his designees who make the final decision on whether to approve the administration of a test — a decision based on the information submitted by the direct supervisors.

“(Drug testing) supports the foundation of our safe and drug-free school policies. That’s what we expect out of our students and it’s what we expect out of our employees,” said Smith.

This expectation also applies to the second largest employer in the county, Cactus Pete’s Inc. in Jackpot, which DETR reported has 600 to 699 employees.

According to Kris Ann Brown, public relations manager, the company has a strict drug-testing policy — with between 400 and 450 tests administered each year at a combined cost of $5,000 to $6,000.

In addition to requiring pre-employment screenings, Cactus Pete’s also utilizes random, post-accident and suspicious activities screenings.

“Our policy is just another measure of maintaining that high level of safety” and security expected of Cactus Pete’s employees by both guests and other employees, said Brown.

She added that “every business regardless of the industry has to be aware of this” potential problem, and that Cactus Pete’s frequently reviews policies in an attempt to be proactive.

Though not all industries or companies are required by law to establish and maintain a drug-free workplace policy, government entities are required to do so.

Elko County, which DETR reported at having between 300-399 employees, maintains a drug-free workplace policy.

According to Elko County’s Personnel Policies Manual, all employees are screened for drugs prior to their employment. In addition, the county can engage in random drug testing based on reasonable suspicion without issuing prior notification.

The county uses a combination analysis of urine, breathe or saliva to ensure employees are conforming with the policy. If a test registers positive, results will be confirmed through separate testing procedures in a licensed lab.

According to Human Resources Director Jeri Underwood, to ensure a truly randomized drug test the county uses an outside contractor.

Specialty Health MCO in Reno has a listing of all the names of individuals that work for the county who are subject to quarterly random drug and alcohol testing. Each quarter Underwood receives a list of the people who need to be tested.

“Not everyone is always called in for both, it depends on how the report comes out of Reno,” said Underwood. “It’s quite random.”

 There are between 25 and 30 individuals who are eligible for CDL tests and, according to Underwood, no county employee has ever failed a random drug test.

“It’s community safety. It’s safety for our CDL drivers, it’s safety for our community. You don’t want someone in a great big truck going through a stoplight and running over pedestrians,” she said.

While drug and alcohol testing can be expensive, it’s cost-effective when considering the possibility of preventing an accident, Underwood said.

According to Underwood, drug screening costs $45 apiece, while the breathe and alcohol tests are $70 each. Confirmation from the physician who registers the test is $20 and confirming the testing costs an additional $20.

Though companies can contract with laboratories outside the state, many use Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital — which can process upwards of 100 drug screens per day, though the average is 30, according to lab assistant Christy Theriault, a phlebotomist.

“Nothing has slowed down,” said Theriault. “We’re pretty busy because we have all the contractors that work out at three huge mines. We have everything — construction, truck driving — you name it. We’re kind of in a boom town.”

While many employers in the county utilize random drug testing on individuals with CDLs, these account for only one-eighth to one-fourth of the tests NNRH processes.

According to Theriault, the amount of drug tests from industrial occupations exceed that of other county employers that utilize NNRH’s lab for post-accident testing.

The company that brought in the most traffic to the laboratory in December was JS Redpath, which had well over 100 tests completed on employees.

The type of drug tests a company requires frequently depends on the industry. For the randomized and pre-employment screenings, “most companies are still utilizing a urine test and as far as know they tend to be pretty accurate,” Theriault said.

“If there’s a suspicion of something (post-accident), they’ll not only do the urine but they’ll do a blood test also, for blood-alcohol level.”

Banks and mines generally both require hair tests for pre-employment screenings. These can go back between three and six months, whereas a traditional urine test only reflects the last 12 hours, Theriault explained.

Barrick Mining Corp. is one of the mines that takes a structured and proactive approach to drug use in the workforce. Barrick uses a range of testing procedures, including urine, hair, blood and swabs. According the Drug & Alcohol Policy of Barrick North America Regional Business Unit, hair testing is the standard method for drugs, and urine testing is the standard for alcohol.

This policy also states that Barrick maintains a drug and alcohol free workplace, and sets a zero tolerance standard not only for employees and contractors, but also for consultants, and even vendors and visitors. As with Elko County, the school district and Cactus Pete’s, Barrick also utilizes both random and “for cause” testing.

Drug tests are a routine part of the pre-employment physical exam for all Barrick employees. When it come to randomized testing, Barrick has established the amount of the workforce that must be tested each year at 20 percent.

As Barrick operates predominantly in Eureka County, they are not included in the DETR Elko County listings. Their total number of employees, according to DETR, is 1,500 to 1,999. Newmont Mining Corp. is also listed in Eureka County, and employs 2,000 to 2,499 people. According to the company’s website, Newmont is a drug-free workplace and “closely monitors” drug use and utilizes a series of established procedures.

Red Lion Hotel and Casino is a drug-free workplace and requires pre-employment drug screenings, according to its corporate website.

Wal-mart engages in similar practices, according their Statement of Ethics. Employees must take a pre-employment drug test and be retested prior to promotion. In addition, Walmart utilizes reasonable suspicion random drug tests.

Elko’s Red Lion and Wal-mart each employ 300-399 employees, according to DETR.

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