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Drug tests becoming more of a hiring obstacle for NH employers

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 01. 2017 1:47AM
A woman uses vials for drug testing at MolecularDX in Windber, Pennsylvania, U.S. on Aug. 9, 2017. (Reuters)

New Hampshire employers are seeing more promising job applicants withdraw from consideration after hearing they need to take a drug test to get the job.

"It even happens to us," said Stephanie Bergeron, executive director of Serenity Place, a substance abuse treatment center in Manchester. "Once we mention drug tests, they back out."

In a state with one of the nation's highest per-capita rates of opioid-related deaths, more and more employers are seeing job candidates fail drug tests or back out to avoid them.

"I think more are doing it because worker's compensation is suggesting it strongly or requiring it or just because they are trying to maintain better safety," said Charla Stevens, director of the litigation department and chair of the employment practice group at the McLane Middleton law firm in Manchester.

"I have found that just anecdotally with clients discussing this, they have had real issues with the drug testing with prospective employees being able to pass the drug test," said Stevens, who generally represents employers. "Marijuana has been probably the most common, but we do see different things," she said.

"We do see prescription medications (including opioids) and a little bit with cocaine."

Last month, Manchester set a record for the number of reported opioid-related overdoses, surpassing 102 set in September 2015.

More than half of employers nationwide require drug testing for job seekers.

One annual report showed a worsening drug problem.

"Drug use in the American workforce, fueled by illicit drugs, reached the highest positivity rate in 12 years," according to an analysis of more than 10 million workforce drug test results by Quest Diagnostics, the world's leading provider of diagnostic information services.

For job applicants who had their urine tested for drugs, results for federally mandated safety-sensitive workers turned up a 2 percent positive rate in 2016 versus 1.7 percent in 2012. For the general U.S. workforce, the positive rate was 4.4 percent compared to 3.7 percent in 2012.

The top concern of the state's employers is finding a skilled workforce in a state with an unemployment rate under 3 percent, said Jim Roche, president of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.

"A significant contributing factor is the inability to pass a drug test or a drug screening" by job candidates, Roche said.

"I heard someone say just recently for positions where drug testing is not required and it's not a safety issue, they will sometimes not screen because it narrows the candidate pool," Roche said.

At the Manchester office of Manpower, a temporary staffing agency, workers try to fill predominately jobs in manufacturing, light industrial or logistics fields.

"Ninety-five percent of our clients require drug screening," said Donna Lungo, a senior staffing specialist. "The potheads are ... not getting jobs."

"We order a drug screen, and we don't hear from them," Lungo said. "We've just deduced the fact they're not going to the drug screen because they're not going to pass."

She suspects marijuana and not opioids is the drug of choice for most seeking a position there.

If Serenity Place is working with someone actively using opioid drugs and getting treatment, then "seeking employment is probably not the best approach" for that client, Bergeron said.

Roche said he has been hearing about concerns about job applicants for a few years.

"Employers are casting the net wider and finding those remaining in the workforce are often those with substance abuse challenges," Roche said, adding it's probably a couple of factors.

"Manufacturing has been one where I've heard about a lot of concern expressed about being able to fill positions as a result of failed drug testing," he said.

Not all employers are testing.

Agamatrix, which employs nearly 100 in Salem, doesn't do drug screenings on job candidate but left open the opportunity to start.

"We tend to be in a high-tech industry," said Cara Mottolo, vice president of human resources. "We have a lot of individuals who have advanced degrees ... and tend to be more affluent. There is less (drug) prevalence in that regard."

She said the company, which develops and manufactures biosensors and blood glucose monitors, conducts a full background check of job seekers. Mottolo said the Salem headquarters has no drivers or production, areas where you would need to be "more careful."

In a few weeks, Agamatrix employees can attend a wellness seminar at work where they can hear from folks from the employee assistance program talk about the opioid crisis.

Meanwhile, Roche recalled a few years back when someone at a manufacturing firm told him "they'll 'take anyone if they can fog a mirror and pass a drug test.' That's how desperate they are for employees."

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