It's a lot like a home pregnancy test kit. Except, if the results are positive, it doesn't mean a bundle of joy is on the way.
"If the dot is green, you're not clean," said Richard D. Hamill, the president and chief executive officer of Hycor Biomedical Inc. of Garden Grove, Calif., whose company joined more than 100 vendors in Washington yesterday for a two-day conference on the problem of drugs in the workplace.
For $20 and a few drops of urine, Hycor's accuPINCH drug test can detect cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, marijuana and phencyclidine (PCP) in only 10 minutes.
It's too soon to tell if corporate America will buy into the on-site testing of job applicants for drugs in its front-line battle against substance abuse. But one thing is clear: The market for arming companies with the necessary tools and treatments has grown into a multimillion-dollar business.
"Drugs in the workplace is a problem that is getting attention at long last," said Peter B. Bensinger, president of Bensinger DuPont & Associates, a national consulting firm. "This battlefield will produce great results because ... you have rules and discipline. You have the power of hiring and not hiring."
Bensinger estimates that there is $300 million or more to be made annually in the area of drug testing alone. "And that is just the cost of the test," he said.
Within corporations, some 8 million workers were tested last year, a figure that is expected to triple by 1992.
A far-flung industry has sprung up to respond to the growing demand, offering everything from freeze-dried human urine samples to wall-mounted, computerized alcohol breath testing systems that decide whether an employee should be allowed to enter a work site.
The 112 vendors at yesterday's conference offered full-service specimen collection, testing and reporting of results. Abbott Laboratories had on display its $35,000 computer analyzer that yields test results in 18 minutes and is considered highly reliable. Wells Fargo Guard Services also has a rapid test for detecting drugs. Business Risks International was selling "undercover drug investigation expertise."
Seminars at the conference delved into issues such as "Specimen Testing: How Can You Be Certain?"
Treatment centers and "corporate wellness" consulting firms offered other strategies. Company representatives had their pick of the latest computer technology to monitor test results, training for supervisors, videos to keep employees off cocaine and tips on how to handle the regulatory and legal issues that go hand in hand with a drug policy.
The potential customer list is considerable.
Some 85 percent of companies with more than 500 employees now have drug policies, Bensinger said. More than half of Fortune 500 companies do pre-employment testing, while 30 percent of major companies test "for cause" on the job. On the preventative side of the ledger, some 31 percent of all employees now have access to an "employee assistance program" to give them confidential help with their problem.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 10 million people who are employed use drugs. A study by Georgia Power Co. showed that employees treated for drug abuse were absent more, had more workers' compensation claims and used more medical benefits than those who did not have a problem.
Though speed has become an important element in drug testing, accuracy is paramount. For this reason, companies are expected to be careful about any unknowns concerning new technology such as accuPINCH, which is a preliminary indicator of drugs, not a confirmation of them.
"Employers will be more cautious than some of the other marketplaces," Hamill said. "But if 95 percent of those tested are negative, why not find that out quickly?"
Though companies have found it time-consuming and expensive to find out who is clean, they are taking the job seriously.
M.W. Kellogg Co., an engineering firm in Houston, has a drug testing policy that covers its entire 3,000-person work force. "We are not looking for abuse, just use," said James R. Wilhite, manager of human resources for M.W. Kellogg. "The casual weekend users are going to have a hard time staying employed."
Giant Food Inc. takes a different approach, relying mostly on education and prevention. There are only 20 job titles for which pre-employment testing is mandatory. There is no random testing and on-the-job testing is only for "reasonable suspicion," said Giant's Deborah Munley.
But the biggest deterrent, many companies have found, is three little words on the door of the employment office.
"The most effective part of the program is the sign that says, 'We Drug Test,' " said John D. Donohue, vice president of sales and marketing for Wells Fargo Guard Services. "Then they decide they have to go out and put money in the meter or something, and we end up with a half-filled job application."