Guidelines for on-site drug testing may be accepted

New guidelines under development for on-site drug and alcohol testing may help the tests gain acceptance from government regulatory bodies, says the director of the national organization spearheading the guideline project.

A draft version of the guidelines is scheduled to be released in March, says David Evans, executive director of the National On-site Testing Association (NOTA) in Flemington, NJ.

NOTA has been working with others in the field for about six months in an effort to create standardized training and certification for on-site testing. The on-site, "instant" drug screens are a fairly new development in occupational health, but there are now several manufacturers promoting the test kits. Most of them are promoted for pre-employment testing for alcohol and a wide range of illegal drugs. The test usually is performed with a test card or stick that is dipped in a urine sample, or the sample cup itself contains the testing medium.

The instant tests can be inexpensive, but even if you charge more than for other testing options, many employers are willing to pay for results that come in less than five minutes. The tests originally were developed for use in the criminal justice system in 1990, but then employers and occupational health providers slowly took interest over the next few years. The instant tests are used almost exclusively for pre-employment testing, because that is when the negative test result is most likely, most useful, and needed the fastest.

Evans says NOTA will seek comments on the draft guidelines and then make revisions.

"We expect this to be the basis for certification for on-site test operators," he tells Occupational Health Management. "Some states have required training already, and most operators are trained by the manufacturer. We still foresee most training provided by manufacturers, but we think the guidelines will provide some uniformity and standards that will make on-site testing more reliable."

The guidelines may make on-site drug and alcohol testing more acceptable to the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which would in turn make on-site testing an acceptable option for some federally regulated workplace testing. Evans says HHS will not be approving the guidelines because that would require a lengthy regulatory process, but he hopes to get an unofficial blessing from the feds that will give the guidelines some weight in the industry.

The draft guidelines will cover a wide range of topics, from on-site testing procedures and quality control, certifying test results, and chain of custody. The guidelines will include provisions prompted by the federal Department of Transportation guidelines for on-site alcohol testing.

[For more information, contact:

• David Evans, Executive Director, National On-site Testing Association, 203 Main St., Suite 103, Flemington, NJ 08822. Telephone: (908) 806-0008.]