The Journal of
Cognitive Liberties

This article is from Vol. 1, Issue No. 3 pages 65-68 (Fall 2000)
2000 CENTER FOR COGNITIVE LIBERTY AND ETHICS
All rights reserved worldwide.  ISSN: 1527-3946
 

 

 

 

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Ecstasy & Narco Hair Testing:
MDMA Added to Standard
Pre-Employment Hair Tests

By Richard Glen Boire

On July 3, 2000, Associated Pathologists Laboratory (APL) announced that beginning August 1, 2000, MDMA detection will be added to the company’s current 5-panel drug hair testing service (“at no additional charge to APL’s clients”).1 APL is the largest privately held drug testing laboratory in the United States, operating literally 7 days a week, 365 days a year. According to the company’s Web site,2 in 1999 they performed over 40,000 hair tests for the (old) standard five classes of “abused drugs:” amphetamines, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and marijuana (THC).

APL’s hair testing services are used almost exclusively by US companies that force prospective employees to submit to pre-employment drug testing. So far, few law enforcement agencies rely on hair testing for drugs, although it seems to be catching on as a method of post-conviction monitoring of probationers and parolees. APL’s “Speaker’s Bureau,” which is really just another name for part of their marketing team, sends APL representatives across the country to encourage corporations to test job applicants for illegal drugs.3 APL’s Web site asks employers: “Can you afford to hire just one drug user? If not, call APL and let us assist you in putting together the most comprehensive drug testing program available.”

According to APL, hair testing is superior to urine testing for pre-employment drug testing. The company calls urine testing a “liquid IQ test” (“Is the applicant smart enough to abstain from drug use for a week before the drug test?”) Most drugs, notes APL, are only detectible in urine for 3-5 days after ingestion, and thus a potential employee who learns that a company drug-tests applicants, will simply cease using drugs for a period of a week or two prior to the urine test. APL’s hair test, boasts APL, tests for drugs deposited “in and on” hair over a period of approximately 90 days prior to the date the hair sample is taken. This means that a person who casually smoked marijuana in July, or used MDMA at a weekend summer rave, may test positive for drug use when tested in the fall. Clearly, such testing has absolutely nothing to do with a prospective employee’s likely performance on the job–no more than knowing whether a person had a margarita sometime in the past three months says something about their professional abilities. So what’s really going on here?

According to a 1996 study by the American Management Association, the share of major US firms that test for drugs is now over 80 percent.4 Pre-employment drug testing of any kind (urine, saliva, sweat, blood, or hair) is an affront to the dignity of potential employees who are forced, even before they’re hired, to turn over bodily fluids or body parts to the company. In one sense, pre-employment drug testing is a test to see just how much human dignity an applicant is prepared to part with; a test to learn just how much personal privacy they expect to retain, and how willing they are to “give their all to the company.”

Hair testing, with its long testing horizon of three months, is a blatant form of corporate intimidation—a corporate statement to potential employees: “If you work for us we own you–all of you, all the time.” And as more and more companies adopt such practices, it will become increasingly difficult for people to escape such a lopsided power dynamic.

Employment testing greatly expands the Government’s War on (Some) Drugs to make corporations unrecognized law enforcement agencies, a tactic envisioned by the US government at least as early as 1989 when an official drug control report predicted: “Because anyone using drugs stands a very good chance of being discovered, with disqualification from employment as a possible consequence, many will decide that the price of using drugs is just too high.”5

Thus, the latest addition of MDMA to the growing roster of drugs tested for, in and on the hair of job applicants, bespeaks the vast scope of the US anti-drug policy—a policy not only of cognitive control, but of further entrenching, supporting, and expanding the already immense power of corporate government to control the minds and lives of citizens.6

Notes

1 The press release issued by Associated Pathologists Laboratory announcing its new MDMA hair testing service can be read online at: http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/000703/nv_apl_ecs.html.

Following the lead of APL, Psychemedics Corporation announced on July 18, 2000, that it too would begin screening hair samples for MDMA. Psychemedics Corp., says it provides drug testing of hair samples to some 1,700 corporations and roughly 90 private schools across the United States. (See the Psychemedics press release online at: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20000720/hl/ecstasy_1.html)

2 APL’s Web site can be accessed at: www.apllabs.com.

3 According to APL’s Web site, Diane Shanklin, APL’s Toxicology Marketing Manager, has dedicated the past seven years to promoting drug testing in the workplace.

4 American Management Association, “Drug Testing and Monitoring Survey,” (1998).

5 The White House, “National Drug Control Strategy,” (1989), 57.

6 For information showing how drug testing in the workplace fails to accomplish its ostensible goals, see the report “Drug Testing: A Bad Investment,” issued in the fall of 1999 by the American Civil Liberties Union. The report can be viewed online at: http://www.aclu.org/issues/worker/drugtesting1999.pdf

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Richard Glen Boire, J.D., is executive director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics.