Workplace Drug Testing Guide

Written By -
Published on May 4th, 2018

The United States workforce has long upheld a reputation for the highest quality paired with the refusal to cut corners. A key facet of maintaining this reputation is to ensure that organizations within the country are committed to preserving a safe, healthy, and productive work environment for their employees.

Since the mid-1980’s, companies across the public and private sector have placed a priority on keeping their workplace free of drug use. Currently, 62% of all United States employers have a drug testing policy for this very purpose.

Drug testing in the workplace is far from an apples-to-apples process. Each company, agency, and institution has a unique set of employees, workflows, risks, demands, and all kinds of factors that impact how the organization is run. While some drug testing programs can work wonders, others can be completely ineffective.

In order for a drug testing program to adequately support a thriving workplace, employers need to fully understand what the process entails, the goals it will achieve, and how to properly implement it for the long haul.

This writing will go in-depth to explain the backgrounds of the major drug categories that organizations test for, how the concept of drug testing has evolved over the years, and what the future of this process looks like. Here is everything you need to know about workplace drug testing in the United States.

Table of Contents

  • History of Drugs
    • Marijuana

    • Cocaine

    • Opiates

    • Amphetamines

    • Ecstasy

    • Phencyclidine (PCP)

  • Evolution of Drug Testing
    • Origins

    • Leaders

    • Industry

    • Advantages and Positive Effects

    • Disadvantages

    • Challenges and Roadblocks

    • How Organizations Adapted

    • Future Outlook

  • Recent Changes to Legislation
    • The Obama Administration

    • The Trump Administration

    • Marijuana Legalization

    • Current Drug Problems in America

  • How to Choose the Right Program

  • Wrapping Up

History of Drugs


Marijuana is a psychoactive drug derived from the cannabis plant. Marijuana contains 483 known compounds. The most notable psychoactive compound is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This chemical is responsible for the intoxicating effects of marijuana and is found in the resin created by the leaves and buds of the female plant. Common slang terms for marijuana include:

  • Weed
  • Pot
  • Reefer
  • Green
  • Bud
  • Grass

How it’s consumed

Marijuana can be consumed in a multitude of ways. Most commonly, it is smoked via hand-rolled cigarettes (joints), hand-rolled cigars (blunts), dry pipes, or water pipes (bongs). In recent years, many consumers are electing to use vaporizers for stronger forms of marijuana made from concentrated resins, known as hash oil, wax budder, or shatter.</p><p>As marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient is fat soluble, it can be mixed into foods, known as edibles. It’s frequently used to make cookies, brownies, cakes, and candies. Marijuana can also be used to make tea.


The effects of marijuana differ slightly from person to person. These commonly include:

  • Euphoria
  • A sense of relaxation
  • Altered perception of time
  • Heightened sensory awareness
  • Frequent laughter
  • Increased appetite

Some users may also experience:

  • Panic
  • Paranoia

These effects typically happen if a user has consumed too much.

Upon smoking marijuana, the chemicals from the drug pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream, which is then transferred throughout the body and into the brain. The user will feel the effects in a matter of seconds.

If consumed through drinks or edibles, the effects will be delayed. This is because the chemicals need to work their way through the digestive system. A user can typically expect to feel the effects of edibles within 1 hour. A major risk factor with edibles is that the delayed effects can sometimes cause people to accidentally consume more than they had originally intended.

Overall, the effects of marijuana use are temporary and usually last between 2-4 hours.

The long term effects of excessive marijuana use can involve breathing problems and irritated lung tissue. If the user starts in their young teenage years, prolonged use can affect brain development, which may impair thinking, memory, or verbal ability.

Marijuana typically stays in a user’s systems up to:

  • 30 days in urine.
  • 1-7 days in blood.
  • 24 hours in saliva.
  • 90 days in hair.

Early uses

Marijuana use dates back thousands of years.

In some cultures, marijuana was used for religious or spiritual purposes. Most notably, marijuana has been used in India and Nepal since the Vedic period, which dates back nearly 3,500 years. There is also evidence that ancient Greeks used the drug to eliminate anger and sorrow. Nowadays, perhaps the most widely-known spiritual use of marijuana is done by the Rastafari Movement as an aid to meditation.

In the ancient times, marijuana was widely used for recreation in the Middle East and some other parts of Asia. It saw a boost in popularity with the spread of Islam, as the Quran did not specifically prohibit its usage.

Many of the early uses were for medicinal purposes, which were estimated to have started in Asia around 500 BC. It was commonly used as treatment for:

  • Stomach pains
  • Cholera
  • Eating disorders
  • Nausea
  • Cancer treatment

The medical uses of the plant sequentially spread to Africa, Europe, and the Americas. In the 1830’s, and Irish doctor named Sir William Brook O’Shaughnessy advanced the research of cannabis for medical purposes. Towards the end of the 19th century, cannabis extracts were sold in pharmacies and doctor’s offices.

In modern times, it wasn’t used much for recreation in the United States until the early 1900’s. During this time, marijuana was still primarily used for medicinal purposes. As time went on, the recreational smoking of marijuana began to grow. Some consider the Mexican Revolution to be a primary cause for its popularity growth in America.

When it was outlawed

In the United States, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was introduced by Rep. Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina. It was the initial federal law to criminalize usage across the country. The law put a tax on sale, possession, and transfer of all hemp-based products. The result was that all uses of marijuana were criminalized, except for industrial. Violators were subjected to a fine of up to $2,000 and 5 years in prison.

After several decades, the Tax Act of 1937 was ruled unconstitutional. It was replaced by the Controlled Substance Act in the 1970’s. This act worked to establish Schedules for ranking substances based on their dangerous effects.

Why it was outlawed

There are many different reasons and theories as to why marijuana was made illegal in the U.S. In the hearings during the 1930’s, there were infamous claims made that it caused people of color to become violent and solicit sex from white women. In this time, there was a lot of negative associations between marijuana and oppressed ethic groups.

Most commonly, the perception was that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to eventual use of dangerous narcotics. In previous decades, many lawmakers did not see a viable link between usage and medical benefits, and the negative effects on users’ lives outweighed the positives.

Impact on culture

Marijuana had a huge impact on American culture throughout the 20th century.

Starting in the 1930’s, authorities were making huge strides to crackdown on marijuana use in the United States. This movement was the inspiration for the 1936 propaganda film Reefer Madness. The goal of this campaign was to instill fear of marijuana in the public eye and portray it as a murderous drug. During this time, marijuana was viewed as an addictive drug that jazz musicians used before playing.

By the 1940’s, marijuana had begun to move out of jazz clubs and into the mainstream. By the mid 1940’s, medical professionals and public figures were beginning to debunk the stigma that marijuana is an evil, murderous drug. Notably, researchers of The New York Academy of Medicine found that the typical smoker “readily engages in conversations with strangers, discussing freely his pleasant reactions to the drug and philosophizing on subjects pertaining to life in a matter which, at times, appears to be out of keeping with his intellectual level.” – per a 1944 La Guardia report.

Throughout the next couple decades, the murderous stigma of marijuana was slowly beginning to die down. One of the first pro-marijuana marches took place in 1965 outside of the New York Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village.

The drug played a significant role in several cultural movements throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. Most notably, it was a critical element in many against the Vietnam War and the Peace Movement. In the 1970’s, government officials did a lot to regress the social progress made for marijuana. At this time, it was placed in the most dangerous and restrictive category. During the Nixon era, it became a poster child for the War on Drugs campaign. A 1972 report from the National Commission of Drug Abuse recommended a “partial prohibition,” which included lower penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Nixon Administration ignored the report and its findings. The War on Drugs campaign was a major contributor to the DEA being created in 1973.

Over the years, there have been many organizations that have worked to reform the current marijuana laws. NORML – The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has been a key advocate in this movement.

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use by those with severe or chronic illnesses. Currently, Washington D.C, Guam, Puerto Rico, and 29 other states allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Since then, Alaska, Oregon, Washington DC, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada have followed suit.

Marijuana has been the inspiration for a myriad of movies and TV shows in the United States.

There a number of high-profile celebrities who are outspoken about their support for marijuana legalization.

Current Laws

Under federal law, marijuana is still illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. It is listed as a Schedule I drug – which does not recognize its medicinal value and views it as “highly addictive.” Under this law, marijuana is treated similarly to heroin.

Penalties for a small possession of marijuana can range from 1-3 years in prison and a fine of $1,000 -$5,000. For sale of marijuana, penalties can range from 5 years to life in prison and a fine of $250,000- $1 million. Cultivation follows similar penalties.

On a state level, there are currently 29 states in the US where medical marijuana is legal and 8 where recreational use is legal.



In the Vietnam War, daily marijuana usage by soldiers stationed in country was around 14%. - 1971 Department of Defense Survey

17 Billion

Total market sales of legal marijuana are predicted to hit $17 billion annually by 2021. – Marijuana Business Daily

35 Million

Approximately 35 million Americans use marijuana on a monthly basis. – Yahoo News/Marist Survey


More than 5% of all arrests in the United States are related to marijuana. -FBI – Crime in the U.S


What it is

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant made from extracts of coca plant leaves, which are indigenous to South America. The final product resembles a fine white powder. It can also be found in the form of small off-white rocks. This typically means the drug has been processed with ammonia or baking soda to remove impurities. The remaining mixture is known as crack cocaine.

Many street dealers mix cocaine with similar-looking white powders like cornstarch, flour, or talcum powder as fillers to increase profit margins. Cocaine goes by many different slang names which include:

  • Blow
  • Coke
  • Snow
  • Powder
  • Yay
  • White

How it’s consumed

Cocaine can be consumed in several different ways. It is typically administered through snorting, injection, and inhalation.

Snorting is the primary method of cocaine consumption, in which the substance is consumed through the mucus membrane of the nose. It is then transferred directly to the bloodstream through nasal tissue. The powder form can also be applied to the user’s gums for a fast effect.

When it is injected, the substance is mixed with water and shot directly into the bloodstream with a syringe.

Cocaine can be inhaled through a method called freebase. Freebasing involves heating up the drug and inhaling the vapors, which is then transferred to the bloodstream through the lungs. This is usually done when the drug is in crack cocaine form.


The effects of cocaine are felt almost instantly upon consumption. The user will feel:

  • Mentally alert
  • Talkative
  • More in-tune with surroundings.

The physiological effects can quickly increase:

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Body temperature

Consuming large amounts of cocaine can result in aggressive and erratic behavior. Cocaine will also decrease appetite and the need for sleep. The short-term effects can range based on consumption method. If snorted, the effects typically last for 15 to 30 minutes. From inhalation, the effects are more instantaneous but may only last for 5 to 10 minutes. When injected, the user will feel the peak effects after about 5 minutes.

Long-term use of cocaine can potentially cause severe medical complications. These include:

  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Disruption in heart rhythm
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Panic
  • Restlessness

If the user snorts cocaine, the physical effects can result in loss of smell and prolonged irritation of the nasal septum. Long-term inhalation can damage the lungs and result in asthma. Those who inject cocaine are at risk of contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

Cocaine overdose has several key symptoms to watch out for. These commonly include:

  • Dangerously high
  • Psychosis
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Passing out

Cocaine typically stays in a user’s system up to:

  • 2-4 days in urine.
  • 2 days in blood.
  • 12 hours - 2 days in saliva.
  • 90 days in hair.

Early uses

Cocaine is one of the oldest known stimulants to be used by humans. Ancient cultures would often chew on coca leaves for a number of reasons. The Incas in the Andes mountains would do so to get their hearts beating and increase breathing to counter the effects of the high altitude.

The native Peruvians chewed on coca leaves during religious ceremonies. When the Spanish invaded Peru in the 1500’s, the soldiers would keep their laborers in the silver mines stocked with coca leaves because it made them easier to coerce.

Cocaine was first extracted from coca leaves in the mid 1850’s by a German chemist named Albert Neiman. It was not popularized in the medical community until the 1880’s. The origins for medical use stemmed from cocaine’s perceived ability to cure depression and sexual impotence.

In 1886, the drug’s popularity hit a whole new level in the United States when John Pemberton infused coca leaves with his famous soft drink Coca Cola.

During this time, the drink was used as a medicinal syrup. It wasn’t until early 1900’s that the negative effects were starting to be recognized by the masses. Due to public pressure, the Coca Cola company removed cocaine from the recipe in 1903. Shortly after, snorting cocaine became an increasingly popular way to consume the drug.

When it was outlawed

Throughout the 1910’s, there were more and more deaths being attributed to cocaine use.

In 1914, Congress passed the Harrison Act, which effectively outlawed cocaine. It required cocaine to be dispensed only with a doctor’s order. By 1922, it cocaine was illegal across the board, with usage tapering off year after year.

Why it was outlawed

In the early 1900’s, hospitals were seeing a spike in nasal damage due to cocaine use. There were roughly 5,000 cases reported each year.

As part of the Harrison Act of 1914, there was a special tax imposed on all people who produced, imported, and distributed cocaine in the United States.

Some believe the crackdown was originally intended to be a backlash against African Americans. After slavery was abolished, freed slaves were beginning to find a place within the U.S economy, much to the dismay of many White Southerners. There existed a common association between African Americans and cocaine usage, with the claim that it made them violent towards the white population. The goal was to outlaw the drug to keep the black population under control.

New Orleans was the first city to impose laws against cocaine usage, a trend that spread quickly across the county.

Impact on culture

After decades of suppressed usage, cocaine saw a reemergence in the 1970’s as a fashionable way to stay alert. It was commonly used among entertainers, elites, and business executives. The trend increased throughout the decade and became a frequently-used party drug to help people stay up.

Throughout the 1970’s, Colombian cartels began setting up networks to traffic cocaine into the United States. Most notably, George Jung was a key player in the Medellin Cartel’s influence in America – a Colombian crime organization run by Pablo Escobar. During the early 1980’s, a heavy majority of the cocaine being used in the United States came through Jung. This story was the inspiration for the 2001 film Blow, featuring Johnny Depp as Jung.

By the late 1980’s, the perception of cocaine had changed. It was no longer a rich man’s drug. It had become a widely preferred drug for people of all social classes. During this time, crack cocaine was introduced to the street scene as a cheaper form of the substance. It quickly gained an infamous reputation for America’s most addictive and destructive drug.

The Colombian cartels were largely defeated by law enforcement in the 1990’s. From then on, cocaine trafficking was handled by a much wider scope of smaller groups.

Cocaine is still widely used to this day.

Current Laws

Cocaine possession and usage is illegal under federal and state laws. It is currently classified as a Schedule II drug.

Penalties for possession of small amounts of cocaine can range from probation to 5 years in prison. Possession of large amounts of cocaine is punishable by 5 years to life in prison with fines of up to $20 million. Charges may vary based on the situation.

In 1986, at the peak of the War on Drugs, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was passed under President Ronald Reagan. This law was meant to provide legal distinction between cocaine and crack (which was reaching epidemic status in minority communities). Congress ruled that crack was more dangerous than cocaine and would be treated differently in a court of law. The quantity ratio of the two variations was 100 (crack)-to-1 (cocaine). Even if the amounts of substances were equal, the criminal penalty for crack was significantly greater.

In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced this ratio to 18-to-1.



Adults ages 18-25 have the highest rate of cocaine use of any other age group. – National Institute on Drug Abuse


In the early 1980’s, roughly 80% of all the cocaine in the United States came from George Jung and the Medellin Cartel. – Wall Street Journal


Cocaine accounts for nearly 20% of all drug trafficking arrests in the United States. – United States Sentencing Commission


Deaths from cocaine overdose are highest in adults ages 45-54. – U.S World Repost & News


What they are

Opiates, also referred to as narcotics, are substances that create relaxing experiences for the user. They belong to the biosynthetic group of benzylisoquinoline alkaloids. Derived from pods within the poppy plant, opiates are normally used as painkillers and sedatives. These substances are extremely addictive, and some cases, deadly.

Opiates are classified in three different categories.


As the name suggests, these come from a natural source and are not processed. Natural opiates are made directly from the milk of the seedpods within the poppy plant, such as opium. Morphine and heroin technically fall under this category, too. Even though natural opiates may not be as harmful as the other categories, they are still VERY addictive.


Synthetic opiates (opioids) have similar effects on the brain and body as natural opiates. However, these substances are man-made and created with chemicals not found in the poppy plant. Most prescription pain relievers, sedatives, and tranquilizers, such as methadone and fentanyl, are made from synthetic opiates. Drugs in this category typically produce a more controlled effect. If abused, they can be very dangerous.


These substances are made from a mixture of natural and synthetic alkaloids. Well-known semi-synthetic opiates include drugs like hydromorphone and OxyContin. While these were originally developed to be a safer alternative to the other categories, these types of substances can be equally as dangerous, and in many cases, more dangerous.

How they are consumed

Opiates can be consumed in many different ways. Most commonly, users take opiates orally, through injection, or freebase. However, some drugs are taken through means of a transdermal patch, or in the form of a suppository.

When the opiate is in pill form, they are typically consumed orally. However, some users will crush and snort the pill for a quicker effect. If snorted, the risks are increased.

Injection is perhaps the most commonly used method among addicts. Drugs like heroin and morphine are typically crushed and mixed with water to form a solution that is injected into the bloodstream via syringe. Injection is one of the most dangerous ways to consume opiates. The user is putting themselves at risk of vein collapse, overdose, and infection.

Fentanyl is typically used via patch. These are stuck to the body and are meant to produce a prolonged effect over a timeframe of 24-72 hours. If used incorrectly, fentanyl can be very dangerous, and often times lethal. Fentanyl is also commonly mixed with heroin, which can be an extremely deadly combination.

Many opiates can be smoked or freebased. Smoking is normally the first step a user will take when consuming heroin. But as the addiction and dependence progresses, the user will often times forgo this method and opt for injection.


The effects of opiate use can range quite a bit. The physical effects normally include:

Prolonged usage can lead to a number of health complications and deterioration. Opiate withdraw is often referred to as one of the most painful experiences a human can go through. Side effects may include:

  • Depressed respiratory function
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itchiness

In terms of psychological effects, opiates initially create a euphoric and pleasurable feeling. The user will feel a profound sense of tranquility, which can decrease both physical and verbal reaction times. This effect wears off with ongoing usage. More and more substance is then required to achieve that initial high. Many attribute this concept as the reasoning behind psychological dependence on opiates.

  • Side effects may include:
  • Mental dullness
  • Erratic mood swings
  • Increased sleepiness

Opiate overdoses are becoming increasingly common across the United States. The symptoms of an overdose typically include:

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Passing out
  • Delirium
  • Inability to wake up after falling asleep
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions
  • Respiratory arrest

Opiates typically stay in a user’s system up to:

  • 2-4 days in urine.
  • 1 days in blood.
  • 1-2 days in saliva.
  • 90 days in hair.

Early uses

Opiate usage dates back to the early ages of human history. The poppy plant has been cultivated since the ancient Egyptian, Persian, and Mesopotamian civilizations. Some archaeological evidence indicates that poppy plants existed in Neanderthal cultures dating back over 30,000 years.

Opiates were commonly used to counter feelings of grief and provide enhanced relaxation. In some cultures, it was used for spiritual purposes. Substances were often mixed in drinks, such as tea and wine.

The sixteenth century saw huge advancements in the processing of opiates. Many apothecaries were creating pills and opium compounds as remedies for a wide range of ailments. Opiates were frequently used for recreational purposes during this time.

As the British East India Company began to pick up steam, the opium trade was monopolized and gained a much bigger reach across the globe.

In regards to American history, opiates were used in the early frontier to ease the pain associated with smallpox, dysentery, and cholera. During the American Revolution, opium was commonly used for medical purposes. Even Thomas Jefferson, who was known for being skeptical of medicine in his day, used it to ease diarrhea.

By the 1800’s, both medical and recreational use of opiates were becoming increasingly common. They were a primary ingredient in teething powders and were even used to treat menstrual cramps. One of the most famous opiate infused medicines was Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, which was a mixture of alcohol and morphine used to treat “fussy children” and “harmlessly” put them to sleep.

After the Civil War, more potent forms of opiates began to surface. During this time, heroin, which was originally produced by Bayer (the company that introduced Aspirin), became a mainstream treatment for bronchitis in children.

During the early 1900’s, heroin addiction was rising at alarming rates.

When they were outlawed

Due to the wide variation of opiate-based drugs, there is no exact date when ALL opiates were made illegal. In fact, some are still legal to this day (in a medical context).

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, opiate laws were imposed and enforced on local and state levels.

As addiction spiked, the Smoking Opium Exclusion Act went into effect in 1909, which banned importation and consumption of opium. However, this only applied to “smoking” opium. It did not regulate any type of opium-based medicines.

The Harrison Act of 1914 was created to tax parties involved with the manufacturing and trade of opium. Medical professionals were the only ones exempt from the law.

In 1919, the Supreme Court ratified the Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act. In 1920, doctors were no longer allowed to prescribe narcotic supplies to addicts. However, they could still use them as means to wean people off opiates. The court ruled that prescribing opiates to habitual users was not “professional practice.”

The Narcotic Drug Import and Export Act of 1922 worked to assure proper control of production, trade, and consumption of opiates.

The Heroin Act of 1924 banned manufacture, trade, and possession of heroin under federal law.

In 1951, The Boggs Act imposed maximum penalties for trade violations.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 worked to engage foreign cooperation in eradicating poppy crops and stopping international trade.

Why they were outlawed

Similar to cocaine, the original laws to ban opiates were primarily for tax purposes.

However, as the 20th century progressed, the negative effects and dangers of opiate use were becoming clear. In the early 1900’s, the rate of addiction and death was reaching new heights.

The U.S Government has made many strides in recent decades to combat the opiate epidemic in North America.

Impact on culture

Opiates had a profound effect on American culture throughout the 20th century.

Following the Second World War, many variations and synthetic forms of opiates were introduced, including Hydrocodone, Vicodin, and Oxycodone.

In the 1960’s, recreational drug use was at an all-time high across the globe. The Vietnam War saw a huge increase in heroin use by American soldiers, which added fuel to the fire of the War on Drugs in the 1970’s. The Vietnam War also led to a spike in the heroin trade in the U.S.

Infamous Harlem drug trafficker Frank Lucas would transport massive amounts of heroin from Southeast Asia in the caskets of dead soldiers. This story was the inspiration for the 2007 film American Gangster, in which Lucas was portrayed by Denzel Washington.

Throughout the remainder of the 20th century, the rise of synthetic opiates paved the way for all kinds of new opiate-based drugs in the market.

Currently, the United States is in the midst of the largest opioid abuse epidemic in the nation’s history.

Overdoses are highest in states like West Virginia, Ohio, and a number states along the East Coast.

Throughout the 2010’s, the U.S Government has made many strides to reform their approach to opiates. This included cracking down on medical professionals who were over-prescribing opiate-based painkillers, and significantly expanding efforts and funding to research and treatment of opiate addiction. Some local governments have even started clean needle and syringe programs to prevent the spread of HIV. There has also been a rise in “safe places” where addicts can consume their drugs in a clean environment with specialists there to prevent fatal overdoses.

Current Laws

Opiate consumption (outside of the advice of a medical professional) is illegal in the United States. Possession of drugs like heroin and opium is illegal in any context.

However, different opiates have different levels of criminal law attached to them.



40% of all U.S fatal opiate overdoses involve a prescription opioid. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Opioids currently kill more people per year than breast cancer. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Heroin-related deaths have increased by more than 4x since 2010 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


15% of American adults currently fear addiction to opioids. - Statista


What they are

Amphetamines, is a broad term used for synthetic, mood-altering stimulant drugs used both legally and illegally. This drug category belongs to the phenethylamine class. Amphetamines are used throughout the medical industry for a wide range of purposes. The common uses of these drugs are to treat problems like narcolepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and in some cases, obesity. The effects can be very dangerous and highly addictive if used incorrectly.

How they are consumed

For the most part, amphetamines are consumed orally in pill form. However, these drugs can come in the form of powder, capsules, or crystals and can be snorted, injected, or smoked. When produced illegally, amphetamines are commonly comprised of a mixture of drugs, sugar, caffeine, and a variety of binding agents.

The substance itself can come in a variety of colors and typically has a bitter taste to it.


As a stimulant, the most prominent effect of amphetamines is an increase in energy and accumulation of dopamine in the brain. But, they can affect everyone differently. This can be due to a number of factors including:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Tolerance
  • Amount taken
  • Potency of the drug

The user will likely start to experience the effects immediately, or within a matter of minutes. These effects will typically include:

  • Feelings of confidence
  • Happiness
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Teeth grinding
  • Cold sweats
  • Increased sex drive

Once the drugs have worn off, the effects will normally take a sharp U-turn. These can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on how much the user ingests. The side effects of coming off amphetamines can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Depression

The long term effects of prolonged amphetamine usage are rarely positive. These can involve a wide range of mental, physical, and social problems such as:

  • Suppressed appetite
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Dental problems
  • Heart disease
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Withdraw
  • Financial issues

Amphetamines typically stay in a user’s system up to:

  • 2-4 days in urine.
  • 10-12 hours in blood.
  • 12 hours - 2 days in saliva.
  • 90 days in hair.

Early uses

Use of amphetamines dates back to the late 1800’s. A Romanian chemist named Lazar Edeleanu synthesized the original variation of modern amphetamines in 1887 from a chemical compound found in the Ma Huang plant – native to China.

In the United States, amphetamines weren’t used for medical purposes until the 1920’s, per the US National Library of Medicine. During this time, it was first used to dilate bronchial sacs of the lungs to clear air passages for asthma patients. It was also used to treat those experiencing a cold or fever.

After the Benzedrine Inhaler was introduced in 1932, drug company Smith, Kline &amp; French sold amphetamines in inhalers. But as clinical popularity for amphetamines increased, they became common treatments for conditions like narcolepsy and opiate addiction.

In 1937, the American Medical Association approved the use of amphetamine tablets to treat minor depression, narcolepsy, and Parkinsonism. Amphetamines were commonly prescribed by psychiatrists and neurologists.

As usage picked up throughout the 1930’s, people were finding an array of creative ways to get high off these drugs. One of the most common methods was removing the strips out of inhalers and ingesting them directly, or placing them in coffee. By the latter half of the decade, amphetamines were one of the most abused drug categories in existence.

1939 was when the harmful effects of amphetamines and related medications were first beginning to receive widespread recognition.

Starting in the 1940’s, amphetamine tablets were widely used during wartime to keep soldiers and other military personnel awake for longer periods of time.

The War Years and the proceeding decades saw a huge spike in amphetamine production. By 1962, the FDA estimated that over 200 million amphetamine-based medicines were being circulated in the United States. In turn, the country found itself in the midst of an amphetamine epidemic.

When they were outlawed

Amphetamines aren’t technically outlawed for medicinal use. But as the negative effects were becoming more and more apparent across the world, the authorities stepped in. The United Nations Convention of Psychotropic Substances in 1971 officially ruled amphetamines as a Schedule II controlled substance. This was defined in all 183 state parties.

Production and distribution is heavily regulated in most countries. Some places in Asia have even banned substituted amphetamines for medical use.

Why they were outlawed

Amphetamines (outside of medical counsel) were outlawed due the rising number of cases of addiction, overdose, and death. Additionally, the scientific research in regards to the negative effects, both mentally and physically, were becoming more widespread in the latter half of the 20th century. Due to the harmful consequences of amphetamine abuse, legal usage in the medical field is highly regulated.

Impact on culture

During WWII, the usage of amphetamines was brought into the mainstream. Both the Axis and Allied forces would give them to soldiers to increase their effectiveness.

As time went on following the war, amphetamines were frequently used by an array of people from truck drivers to students – something which occurs frequently to this day. Among students, drugs like Adderall and Vyvanse are commonly used to improve focus while studying. The general consensus is that these types of stimulants increase work efficiency and output. Amphetamines are also popular among creative professionals to improve their work at a quicker pace.

In a recreational setting, amphetamines were the substance of choice for users wanting to be more social and alert. Many people would use them to stay awake for long periods of time during parties. The youth movements throughout the decades frequently associated amphetamine usage with a number of musical genres – most prominently in dance music.

Amphetamines of all kinds are still heavily used to this day for a range of purposes.

Current Laws

Given the incredibly diverse scope of amphetamines, there are many variations that can be purchased legally over-the-counter. These commonly include the following chemicals:

  • Lisdexamfetamine
  • Methylphenidate
  • Dextroamphetamine

However, usage of medicinal amphetamines without a prescription is legally processed as a Schedule II drug. For example, possession of Adderall without a valid prescription is punished as a misdemeanor and the perpetrator can face up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000.



The United States saw a 53% increase in ADHD prescriptions from 2008 – 2012. – The National Survey on Drug Use and Health


The ADHD drug industry is estimated to grow to $17.5 billion by 2020 - IBISWORLD


45% of amphetamine-related emergency room visits involved other pharmaceutical drugs. -DAWN


6.5% of high school seniors use Adderall abusively. – National Institute of Drug Abuse


What it is

Methamphetamine, or just meth, is a synthetic stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It is made from the mixture of various chemicals which include:

  • Lithium
  • Acetone
  • Toluene
  • Phosphorous
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Anhydrous ammonia
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Sodium hydroxide

Methamphetamine is an amphetamine involving a methyl group. The active chemical in meth is called pseudoephedrine, which is a common ingredient in cold medicines used to unblock sinus passages. In its final form, meth is an odorless, crystalline white power that can be easily dissolved in water or alcohol. Colors can vary from brown, to yellow, to gray, to orange, to pink.

Crystal meth, which is a more potent variation of meth, has the appearance of clear chunks that resemble shards of glass or ice.

Meth is readily available due to most of its ingredients being legal to buy and easy to find.

  • Street names for meth include:
  • Crank
  • Tweak
  • Chalk
  • Rocket fuel

How it’s consumed

Meth can be consumed in a number of different ways. In can be taken orally when in pill form – this was the primary method of consumption in the early days of meth. Meth can also be snorted in powder form. Snorting or ingesting meth in pill form will have a slightly delayed effect. When snorted, the user will likely feel the effects in three to five minutes. If taken orally, the effects will be felt in 15 to 20 minutes.

Injecting or smoking the substance typically provides the quickest results. The user will feel the effects almost instantly, or after a few minutes.

Many users consume meth in a pattern known as “binge and crash,” meaning they will take the drug in large amounts for a certain period of time, then go to sleep once the effects have worn off. The psychological effects of the drug normally wear off before the level of meth in the bloodstream decreases. During the “binge” period, the user will not sleep or eat for days at a time – sometimes weeks – depending on the amount taken. Once the effects subside, the user will typically sleep for an extended amount of time.


Meth is a very powerful drug that has a number of noticeable effects on the user – both mentally and physically. The effects can be extremely prominent, even if taken at low doses. At its core, meth increases the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain, primarily dopamine. It triggers a response in the body similar to adrenaline.</p><p>The short-term effects of meth include:

  • Extreme increase
  • Faster breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Itchiness
  • Overheating
  • Delusion
  • Suppressed

These effects will become detrimental with repeated use. As the user consumes more of the drug, the body will need more and more to achieve the same high. This pattern commonly leads to addiction, and in some cases, death. Meth alters the process of metabolism and causes the body to produce a molecule that kills off cells. Use of the drug increases production of ceramide, a substance that controls the energy level within cells. Increased ceramide results in a faster metabolism. A faster metabolism means that your body ages more rapidly. This is why many meth addicts have an older, haggard appearance. These effects can be visible within a couple months of abuse – depending on the severity of the addiction.

The long-term effects of meth use can be very dangerous. These normally include:

  • Erratic mood
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Skin sores
  • Dental problems
  • Extreme weight
  • Brain damage
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of emotion
  • Issues with basic motor skills

Some of the common signs of methamphetamine overdose include:

  • Psychosis
  • Labored breathing
  • Extreme heart beat
  • Seizure
  • Chest pain

Methamphetamine typically stays in a user’s system up to:

  • 3-6 days in urine.
  • 1-3 days in blood.
  • 3 days in saliva.
  • 90 days in hair.

Early uses

Methamphetamine was synthesized as a more potent amphetamine in Japan during the late 1890’s. The original substance was a soluble crystalline powder, ideal for injection. During World War II, meth saw an extremely widespread spike in usage. It was commonly used to keep troops awake for long missions and make them extra aggressive on the battle field. Most notably, meth was given to Japanese Kamikaze pilots before suicide missions.

After the war, meth abuse was reaching epidemic levels, as the substance stored for military purposes was being sold to the public. It was commonly used by truck drivers, factory workers, and a number of other jobs to fight off fatigue.

Meth, along with other amphetamines, were frequently used by soldiers in the Korean and Vietnam War. Some sources claim that American soldiers used more meth during Vietnam than the rest of the world did during WWII.

When it was outlawed

By the 1970’s, the United States Government was cracking down on drug use and introduced the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This law significantly impeded meth’s availability, especially in its injectable form.

Not long after, it became common knowledge that anyone with a basic chemistry set and the right household chemicals could produce the substance in their own home. During this time, the majority of the illegal production and traffic of meth was controlled by American motorcycle gangs.

Why it was outlawed

During the height of America’s amphetamine epidemic, the negative effects of meth were forced into the spotlight. All medical sales of the substance were outlawed and all forms of the drug could no longer be sold over-the-counter.

In the early 1970’s, as part of the War on Drugs, there were all kinds of public campaigns started to deter meth use and educate the public on its detrimental effects.

Impact on culture

Once meth was made illegal in the United States, most of the heavy usage was done in rural areas – as meth was seen as a cheaper and more attainable alternative to cocaine. Even though it was more prevalent in the western states, meth addition was taking a huge toll on communities across the country.

In the 1980’s, the biker gangs discovered that ephedrine, an ingredient found in common cold medicines, could be used to produce extremely potent meth. Home and backyard meth labs were becoming widespread, in which producers (cooks) could manufacture the drug by combining ephedrine with a plethora of household products such as paint thinner, battery acid, red phosphorous, and acetone. The final product became known as crystal meth, which is twice as potent as the traditional variation. The waste produced by meth labs is extremely toxic and hazardous. Cleanup of this material remains a major problem for local authorities to this day. Furthermore, the ingredients used to manufacture meth are extremely flammable.

Lab explosions can leave those involved horribly disfigured. Here is a before-and-after photo of an individual affected by a meth lab explosion:

The 1980’s saw a huge increase in meth trafficking. Mexican drug cartels began supplying large amounts of ephedrine to the biker gangs. By the mid-80’s, the FDA began regulating the sales of 14 prominent types of chemicals used to make crystal meth. Retailers were required to keep records in regards to sales and imports. This had a large impact on sellers of over-the-counter asthma and cold medicines. The pharmaceutical industry lobbied hard against these regulations.

Even with new regulations, the meth culture continued to grow and it exploded throughout the 1990’s (no pun intended). The Amezcua Cartel of Mexico developed a new source of ephedrine in which they would buy it from a number of foreign countries in powder form. As a result, the purity of crystal meth doubled and the number of people entering treatment programs for abuse hit record numbers.

As the government instituted new regulations, suppliers kept finding loopholes to legally obtain the active ingredients in crystal meth. By the late 1990’s, the Amezcua Cartel controlled 80% of the American market for crystal meth, according to estimates by the DEA.</p><p>By the 2000’s, the battle against meth was reaching catastrophic levels. Mexico was importing significantly more pseudoephedrine than what was needed to produce cold medicine, the extra being used for meth. This led to the United States launching the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, which instituted stricter laws for retailers selling pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), ephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine. This included daily sales limits and 30-day purchase limits.

By 2006, the U.N World Drug Report claimed that meth was the most abused hard drug on Earth. At the time, it was reported that more than 26 million people were addicted to the drug.

Throughout the 2000’s and 2010’s, many states have been struggling to control meth-related crimes. It remains on ongoing battle with no clear end in sight. Here is a breakdown of the problem from state to state:

In pop culture, crystal meth was the basis of the award-winning TV series Breaking Bad.

Current Laws

In the United States, methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug, per the Controlled Substances Act. For the most part, possession of meth is treated as a felony. However, penalties can vary based on a number of factors including the state, criminal history, and amount.

By federal law, those caught in possession of any amount over 5 grams must serve a minimum of 5 years in prison, with a maximum of 40. If convicted of possession of 50 grams or more, the minimum sentence is 10 years and maximum is life. Fines can range anywhere from thousands of dollars to millions, based on the situation.

Penalties increase on both state and federal levels if an individual is charged with possession around children, in a school zone, or on school property. Penalties can also increase if the arrest is made in close proximity to public housing or a public park. In some states, possession of meth can violate environmental laws, leading to a more severe punishment.



In the mid 2000’s, more than 3,000 children were removed from meth labs throughout the United States. – National Drug Control Strategy


In 2015, over 4,500 people in the United States died from methamphetamine overdose. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Since 2013, meth-related prosecutions have eclipsed those related to heroin and marijuana. – United States Sentencing Commission

Indiana is ranked as the “Meth Capital” of the United States. - RealClear Politics


What it is

Ecstasy is a recreational drug, typically found in pill or capsule form. It is a synthetic drug made in a lab. Ecstasy is supposed to contain an active substance called 3,4 methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), which is a part of the phenethylamine family of chemicals acting as stimulants or hallucinogens. MDMA was the original name for ecstasy.

Many ecstasy manufacturers will add a number of other substances, such as caffeine, cocaine, bath salts, other amphetamines, or fillers to increase profits. In some cases, the pill will contain no MDMA whatsoever.

Due to the drug being made illegally, pills can come in a wide range of different colors and shapes with engravings on them. Common street names for ecstasy include:

  • Bean
  • Love pill
  • E
  • Adam

Another form of the drug is known as Molly, which is MDMA in the molecular form. This is a crystalline powder that is said to be a much purer variation of ecstasy. Many users believe that Molly does not contain the same contaminants found in ecstasy. However, some studies taken from samples seized by the DEA showed that Molly often contains a number of chemicals other than MDMA, some samples contained none whatsoever.

How it’s consumed

Ecstasy is typically consumed orally in pill or capsule form. However, the drug can also be crushed up into a powder and snorted to feel the effects faster. In powder form, the drug can be applied to the user’s gums.


Ecstacy, or MDMA, boosts the activity of three major chemicals in the brain.


Gives the user a surge of euphoria and a spike in energy.


Affects the user’s mood, the release of this chemical is responsible for feelings of happiness, empathy, and content. It also affects sleep cycles, appetite, and sexual arousal. When large amounts of serotonin are released, the user will feel strong vibes of emotional closeness, elevated mood, and increased empathy to those around them.


Causes the user to experience increased heart rate and blood pressure.

If taken in the pure form in the right environment, the short term effects of ecstasy give the user feelings of extreme euphoria and a perception that the world around them is perfect. The drug provides enhanced bodily sensations and a heightened sense of empathy. Other short-term effects include:

  • Distorted sense of time
  • Heightened pleasure
  • Increased energy levels
  • High alertness
  • Talkativeness

Some of the side effects include:

  • Cold sweats
  • Hallucinations
  • Shaking
  • Teeth grinding
  • Muscle cramping
  • Nausea

The long-term effects of repeated use of ecstasy can be extremely harmful. Most prominently, repeated use can eventually deplete natural supplies of serotonin. When this is case, it will be much harder for the individual to experience positive emotions. Other long-term effects can include:

  • Permanent brain damage
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety
  • Extreme depression
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney and/or liver failure

Common signs of ecstasy overdose include:

  • Seizures
  • Panic attacks
  • Fainting
  • Overheating
  • Convulsions

Ecstasy (MDMA) typically stays in a user’s system up to:

  • 1-3 days in urine.
  • 1 days in blood.
  • 1-5 days in saliva.
  • 90 days in hair.

Early uses

The primary ingredient in ecstasy (MDMA) was first patented in 1913 by a German chemical company called Merck. Originally, it was meant to be sold as a diet pill. However, the company decided not to market the drug and sequentially cut ties with it as they moved on to a newer compound.

After a decade and a half of lying dormant, it was briefly reexamined in 1927, but quickly abandoned again, as the idea of using MDMA as a diet pill was ridiculed. Due to the 1913 patent, it was difficult to conduct extensive research on the chemical.

In the 1950’s, the substance was used by the military and the University of Michigan for toxicity testing. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when a psychiatrist by the name of Alexander Shulgin started using it in his practice. After a few years of experimentation, it became a recognized tool in psychotherapy. It was used by both psychiatrists and their patients to break down walls of communication and better connect with each other. This practice became common in treating patients with PTSD. The drug did wonders to alleviate feelings of remorse, guilt, and fear. During this time, the drug was originally coined “empathy.” But it was quickly changed to “ecstasy” because it was an easier name to market.

By the mid 1980’s, the use of ecstasy was beginning to spread. It was regularly used by college students at bars. By the late 1980’s, the drug found its way into the rave culture. Usage in this context brought ecstasy’s popularity to worldwide attention. To this day, it is still a popular party drug closely associated with dance music.

When it was outlawed

In 1982, the DEA stated that the agency would outlaw the drug if there was enough thorough evidence of abuse. By the mid 80’s, both medical and recreational use of ecstasy was becoming more widespread. In 1984, after a good deal of research and data collection, the DEA proposed that ecstasy be scheduled, with a request for commenting and objections. This proposal was rejected by a number of medical professionals. This was a shock to the DEA, as they did not have thorough knowledge of its use among psychiatrists.

The initial hearing took place in February of 1985. It was then decided there would be three more hearings that year to determine the legal standpoint of the drug.

In May of 1985, the DEA announced an emergency Schedule I classification of MDMA. This was met with a great deal of backlash from the medical community. A Harvard psychiatrist named Lester Grinspoon sued the DEA on account of them not taking the medical advantages into consideration. The courts sided with Grinspoon and vacated the scheduling. However, this was overturned less than a month later and it was reclassified as Schedule I.

Why it was outlawed

The 1980’s was a time when the United States Government was heavily cracking down on drug use altogether. As recreational use of ecstasy was reaching new heights, the medical benefits were becoming ignored.

As a result of the initial hearing, production of MDMA increased heavily, namely by an organization of chemists known as the Texas Group. Fearing that the end was near for legal production of the drug, many companies wanted to capitalize on its popularity while they still could. This led to a large escalation in street usage.

Disapproval of ecstasy’s “party drug” reputation, negative effects, and the focus of the War on Drugs were huge contributors to MDMA being outlawed and deemed a threat to public health.

Impact on culture

Recreational use of MDMA was on a steady rise throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. While it was primarily used in a psychiatric setting, the drug quickly found its way to the streets through personal networks.

As its popularity was increasing, medical professionals feared ecstasy would suffer the same legal fate as LSD and mescaline (both Schedule I). Many would try to limit the spread of use and information. Early distributors were frequently discouraged from large scale operations.

Recreational markets were beginning to develop throughout the 70’s. By the early 80’s, ecstasy was commonly used in nightclubs throughout the Northeast, most notably in Boston and New York City. As the market continued to expand, production of the drug was primarily controlled by chemists in Boston who were focused on the therapeutic use.

Starting in 1983, the Texas Group began mass producing MDMA. The owner of the Texas Group, Michael Clegg, was the one who originally coined the drug “Ecstasy” as a way to market the substance. This company played a pivotal role in the widespread recreational usage of the drug. Tablets were marketed and sold in a variety of ways including pyramid sales structures and toll-free numbers. The Texas Group would advertise “Ecstasy Parties” and marketed the substance as a “fun drug” throughout the bar and club scene. Many users saw it as a great alternative to alcohol. It was perceived as a way to have fun all night long without the hangover.

Following positive experiences with the drug, many cocaine dealers switched to selling ecstasy. As the government cracked down and sent production and distribution underground, gangs and cartels began to take over the market. Throughout the late 80’s and 90’s, ecstasy was the drug of choice for raves and nightclubs. During this time, the drug was mostly used by college students and young adults.

After a brief decline in the rave scene, ecstasy saw a reemergence in the late 2000’s and 2010’s, concurrent with the rise of EDM.

Due to many manufacturers cutting ecstasy with a number of filler components, a great deal of users began opting for the crystalline powder form of MDMA, commonly known as Molly. This substance is typically viewed as a purer version of ecstasy.

To this day, Molly and ecstasy still have a strong presence in the club and music scene, particularly at music festivals.

Current Laws

MDMA, in any form, is classified as a Schedule I drug. While state laws may vary, the general laws are as followed:

An individual in possession of 5 or more grams of MDMA can result in a prison sentence of 5 to 40 years.

An individual found guilty of manufacturing or distributing 50 grams or more of MDMA may be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison and/or fines no less than $4 million.

If the distribution of MDMA led to a fatality or serious injury, the prison sentence can extend to 20 years and fines can increase to $8 million.



Ecstasy usage is highest among adults aged 18 to 25. - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services


An estimated 12% of young adults claim to have used ecstasy at least once in their lifetime. - National Institute on Drug Abuse


Nearly 98% of individuals who use MDMA also claim to have used alcohol during that time. - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services


46% of ecstasy pills are comprised entirely of substances other than MDMA. – ScienceDirect

Phencyclidine (PCP)

What it is

Phencyclidine is a synthetic drug that can be classified as a hallucinogen and an anesthetic. It’s commonly known as “PCP,” which originated from its chemical name, phenylcylohexyl piperidine. PCP is a member of the arylcyclohexlylamine class. This drug contains no natural ingredients whatsoever. It can be found in a number of different forms including tablets, capsules, white powder, liquid, or crystals.

The DEA classifies PCP to be a hallucinogen, while some scientists consider it to be a dissociative anesthetic. The term “dissociative” means that the user experiences feelings of being disconnected from their body.

Depending on how much of the drug is taken, PCP can also act as a depressant or a stimulant. Additionally, use of the substance can cause a wide range of unpredictable and harmful effects.

PCP goes by a myriad of street names including:

  • Angel dust
  • Rocket fuel
  • Peter Pan
  • Cliffhanger
  • Hog
  • Wack
  • Ozone
  • Trank
  • Lethal weapon

It’s very common that PCP is cut with dangerous filler substances.

How it’s consumed

There are many different ways to ingest PCP. Recreationally, it is typically consumed through smoking or freebase. Most commonly, it is mixed with marijuana or tobacco. This combination is known as “fry,” in which a marijuana or tobacco cigarette is dipped in liquid PCP, then dried. When mixed with tobacco, many users will use menthol cigarettes, due to PCP smoke being extremely hot. Often times, it is mixed with other leafy materials such as oregano, parsley, mint, ect.

In powder form, depending on the purity, PCP can also be snorted. This method is much less common than smoking, however. It can also be taken orally if in tablet or capsule form.

In some cases, PCP can be injected with a syringe. This method is by far the least common. Injecting PCP exposes the user to a number of additional hazards than what they would experience with other methods. If smoked, the user would likely pass out before they reach toxic overdose levels; if snorted or swallowed, the user would vomit before an overdose to remove the chemicals. If PCP is injected, there is no easy way to expel the chemicals from the body. In this case, an overdose would likely lead to death if the user cannot get to a hospital in time. Additionally, injecting with a needle puts the user at risk of contracting HIV, AIDS, or a number of other viruses.


The effects of PCP can be extremely powerful and can last a long time.

In the short-term, the effects can vary greatly, based on dosage or method of consumption. When smoked, the user can expect to feel the effects within 2 minutes. If the user swallows PCP in tablet or capsule form, the effects are delayed about 30 min to 1 hour. If injected, the effects will be felt almost instantly. The high can last anywhere from 4 hours to 2 days, depending on how much of the drug was taken.

The dissociative effects of PCP commonly cause the user to feel disconnected with reality and that their body and mind are not working together.

If a lower dosage is taken, the short-term effects include:

  • Numbness
  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Loss of basic
  • Slurred speech
  • Rapid eye movement

With a higher dosage, the short-term effects commonly include:

  • Extreme
  • Loss of basic
  • Misperception of strength, speed, or invulnerability
  • Blank staring
  • Delusion
  • Erratic behavior
  • Raised body
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Anxiety

Prolonged, excessive usage of PCP can have extremely negative effects, both mentally and physically. These include:

  • Loss of basic
  • Speech
  • Irrational thinking
  • Extreme weight
  • Flashbacks
  • Severe depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Constant paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Continuous hallucinations
  • Psychosis

These effects can persist even when the drug isn’t taken. In some cases, these effects can still occur for as long as a year after the last usage.

Users under the influence of PCP can be extremely violent and dangerous toward others or themselves. These behaviors are even more common in users with a history of mental illness. Over the years, PCP has developed a reputation for being a drug that makes the user overestimate themselves and think they are impervious to harm, and in turn, seriously injure themselves. For instance, under the influence of PCP, the user might think they can jump from a high building and survive without a scratch. Another observation is that users will commonly distort calm, everyday situations and respond with violence.

  • PCP is frequently mixed with amphetamines for more intense effects.
  • Symptoms of PCP overdose typically include:
  • Convulsions
  • Fast, side-to-side eye movements
  • Catatonic state
  • Uncontrolled movement
  • Loss of coordination

PCP typically stays in a user’s system up to:

  • 7-14 days in urine.
  • 3 days in blood.
  • 3 days in saliva.
  • 90 days in hair.

Early uses

PCP was first introduced in the 1950’s. It was marketed as an anesthetic by Parke-Davis. During this time, the drug was known by its trade name: Sernyl.

It wasn’t until 1957 that Sernyl was recommended for use on humans. In addition to a surgical anesthetic, it was also used as an animal tranquilizer.

In the early years of use, Sernyl was praised by the medical community. This was due to its ability to provide strong anesthesia without compromising the heart or lungs. These findings led to rapid development of the drug. However, as time went on, the negative post-op effects were beginning to raise alarm. Sernyl was discontinued for medical use in 1965, however, it was still being used as an animal tranquilizer.

Widespread street use of the drug began in the late 1960’s.

When it was outlawed

Due to rising street use and a multitude of negative reports, all manufacturing and distribution of PCP in the United States was made illegal in 1978. The classification of PCP was changed from Schedule III to Schedule II.

Even though PCP was outlawed, illegal production of the drug was still very common, due to it being fairly simple and cheap to manufacture. A DEA brief identified the Los Angeles area in California as a hotspot for illicit manufacturing of PCP.

Why it was outlawed

As PCP usage was gaining traction as an anesthetic for surgical procedures, the side effects of the drug after the operation were becoming a big issue. Many patients were experiencing psychosis, dysphoria, and extreme anxiety.

Once it had been ruled out for medical use, recreational use of PCP took off quickly. Throughout the 1970’s, PCP was becoming a major problem in the United States. Reports of violent crimes as a result of PCP, such as bizarre murders, suicides, and self-mutilation were growing to alarming proportions, causing the authorities to step in.

Impact on culture

Recreational use of PCP grew concurrently with the hippie movement of the 1960’s. Many claim that the drug majorly entered the street scene in Haight Ashbury, a district of San Francisco known for being a central hub to the hippie culture. The drug was commonly referred to as “peace pill” – which many believe contributed to the abbreviation PCP. Over the next few years, PCP use had expanded to areas like New York City and Washington D.C.

By 1968, PCP use (especially in San Francisco) had begun to decline. This was due to a large number of horror stories associated with the substance. Many users wised up to its dangerous effects.

In the 1970’s, PCP saw somewhat of reemergence in street usage. During this time, it was primarily being sold in tablet form, crystalline powder, or liquid. Even though many users were hesitant of the drug due to its reputation, it was still being manufactured because it was cheap to make and extremely powerful. It was common practice for dealers to give PCP different names and pretend it was something else.

By the 1980’s, the rise of crack cocaine caused PCP use drop off significantly. However, PCP saw another reemergence in the club scene of the 1990’s. Many users would mix it with other drugs like LSD, amphetamines, marijuana, ecstasy, ketamine, or meth. The next day, it was common for these users to consume benzodiazepine, a tranquilizer, to cope with a horrendous effects associated with coming off the drug.

To this day, PCP use is heaviest in large urban areas. A great deal of the manufacturing and trafficking of the substance is carried out by Los Angeles street gangs.

In most cases, males are the primary users of PCP. Addicts are often times referred to as “dusters.”

The National Institute of Drug Abuse has been providing the University of Michigan with funds to conduct surveys since 1975. These surveys are called “Monitoring the Future.” The goal is to gauge drug use among students and their attitude towards drugs. In 1979, it was reported that 7% of twelfth graders had used PCP in the last year. In 1990, this number had declined to 1.2%, and to .7% in 2004.

Current Laws

In accordance with U.S law, PCP is a Schedule II controlled substance. Possession is typically charged under state law. However, an individual in possession of large amounts of PCP with the intent to sell may be subject to federal prosecution.

In a federal court, possession of less than 100 grams of PCP is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $1 million-$5 million.

An individual caught in possession of 100 to 999 grams faces 5-40 years in prison and a fine of $5 million-$25 million.

If an individual is caught in possession of 1 or more kilograms of PCP, they face 10 years to life in prison and a fine of $10 million-$50 million.



Between 2005 and 2011, emergency medical visits involving PCP increased by more than 400%. – Substance and Mental Health Services Administration


Nearly 3% of adults over the age of 26 have reportedly used PCP at least once in their lifetime. – National Institute of Drug Abuse

Nearly half of all emergency visits related to PCP involved other illegal substances. - Substance and Mental Health Services Administration


2.06% of adult males have reportedly used PCP in their lifetime, compared to 1.09% of females. - HealthGrove

Evolution of Drug Testing


The history of workplace drug testing began in the latter half of the 20th century, as drug abuse was reaching epidemic levels in the United States.

The initial movement was primarily done within the federal workplace.

By the early 1970’s, the U.S Government was in an all-out war against drug abuse.

Much of the inspiration for this push was the highly-publicized and problematic use of marijuana and heroin among U.S Military personnel during the Vietnam War.

However, it’s important to note that drug abuse in the military goes back long before Vietnam. The Civil War was the first American War that saw heavy usage of morphine on the battlefield. In fact, the Union Army issued as many as 10 million opium tablets to their wounded soldiers throughout the course of the war. Afterwards, there was a widespread issue related to opiate abuse among military personnel. So much that this addiction was commonly referred to as “the army disease.”

Fast forward back to Vietnam, and many soldiers were using drugs excessively to cope with the effects of PTSD.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon directed a drug urinalysis program for soldiers returning from Vietnam. It was in the same year that the government implemented a nationwide survey to compile statistics on illegal drug usage across the country. This was originally known as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA); but it was later renamed the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2002.

The final report of the military urinalysis program found that approximately <42% of U.S military personnel had used opioids at least once during their time in Vietnam. Furthermore, half of these individuals reported to be physically dependent on the drugs, at one point or another.

The results of this report led the Department of Defense to establish a concrete random drug testing program in 1974 for soldiers returning home. The program soon spread to those on active duty. This was the first large-scale drug testing regime in the United States. By 1980, drug use in the military (from a testing perspective) decreased to 27.6%.

In 1981, efforts were ramped up after an accident involving a Marine Corps jet aboard the USS Nimitz killed 14 people, injured 48 people, damaged 11 planes, affected 7 plans, and costed an estimated $150 million. Many of the involved personnel after this incident (along with the deceased) tested positive for marijuana. This event emphasized the importance of a drug testing program in the military.

Another pivotal event that led to stricter drug testing was the 1987 Maryland train collision. This involved a Conrail train crashing into an Amtrak passenger train. The accident resulted in 16 fatalities and millions of dollars in damages. In the proceedings from The National Transportation and Safety Board, it was determined that both the Conrail engineer and operator had been smoking marijuana at the time of the accident. The engineer also tested positive for PCP. This, combined with the USS Nimitz incident, were key events that led to extensive workplace drug testing.

In the mid-1980’s, the positive effects of the military drug testing program resulted in the federal government expanding their policies. President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Organized Crime even recommended that all federal agencies implement drug testing programs throughout their departments. President Reagan then issued Executive Order 12564, which mandated all federal agencies observe a drug-free workplace policy.

This was a way for the U.S Government to set an example for the rest of American industries.

This executive order directed the heads of federal agencies to:

  • Develop guidelines in regards to illicit drug use, along with consequences for violations
  • Implement Employee Assistance Programs
  • Train supervisors in drug abuse recognition and intervention
  • Provide the means for supervisory referrals and self-referral of employees to treatment programs
  • Use drug testing to identify employees in violation of the policies.
  • The order required agency heads to administer urine testing in the following situations:
  • When a new candidate applies for job within the federal government
  • Following an accident on or with company property
  • After an occurrence of unsafe work practices
  • When there is reasonable suspicion that an employee is abusing drugs or is unfit for duty
  • Following a duration of drug counseling or rehabilitation
  • Randomly among employees working in positions deemed safety or security sensitive.

On July 11, 1987, Congress passed legislation for the formal implementation of Executive Order 12564 under Section 503 of Public Law 100-73.

By 1988, drug use in the military had shrunk to 5.8%.

In November of 1988, the Department of Transportation issued strict drug-free workplace programs throughout all six of its operating administrations:

  • Federal Highway Administration
  • Federal Railroad Administration
  • U.S Coast Guard (now part of U.S Department of Homeland Security)
  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • Urban Mass Transportation Administration
  • Research and Special Programs Administration

Furthermore, this DOT program required the termination of an employee(s) from federal service if:

  • The employee refuses to enter or complete a drug rehabilitation or abatement program
  • Repeated drug violations
  • Refusal to provide urine specimen
  • Tampering or substitution of urine specimen
  • Determination that an employee has participated in illegal drug trafficking

In the same year, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. These initiatives set the framework that expanding federal drug testing policies to the private sector. The ultimate goal was to reduce, or eliminate, drug use in the workplace.

In the beginning, during the late 1980’s and 90’s, urine testing was the gold standard for most companies in the public and private sector, due to it being easy and relatively cheap to collect, transport, and analyze. Moreover, the detection window was adequate for many employers.

As time went on, positivity rates were beginning to fall drastically. Even though it appeared on the surface that drug testing was achieving the original goal, the significant plunge in positivity rates caused many drug testing professionals to become suspicious that drug users were finding ways to sidestep the process.

For this reason, many companies began using other testing formats to detect drug use. For instance, saliva tests, unlike urine tests, are collected under supervised observation. Therefore, tampering with the specimen is virtually impossible. These tests are inexpensive and easy to analyze. However, the detection window is very short. This makes saliva testing ideal for post-accident drug testing. Blood tests are also good for this purpose. While said to be the most accurate, this format is rarely used due to its invasiveness and high cost.

In 1987, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) began the formal consideration of hair being used as a matrix in the federal drug testing program. However, the technology during this time was not yet up to par and hair testing could not be properly supported. In 1990, the FDA stated there was no regulated product on the market that was effective in testing hair for the presence of drugs. To this day, even though the tools have advanced a lot, hair testing is still considered a “developing technology.” The major drawbacks of hair testing include:

  • Inconsistencies
  • Long turnaround times
  • High costs

However, due to its long detectability window, hair testing is used by many companies in the private and public sector. These are commonly issued for pre-employment, or, in some cases, return-to-duty screenings.

Currently, urinalysis is still the most commonly used testing format across the board. It is applicable for almost all testing reasons including pre-employment, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, follow-up, return-to-duty, or random.


The Nixon Administration

The Nixon Administration was responsible for leading the initial charge to get drug testing implemented into common practice. They capitalized on the issue of drug abuse in a time when the American public was in an extremely divisive mindset about the Vietnam War. Given the high positivity rate in the urinalysis’ of military personnel returning from war, the program took off at light speed and never looked back.

The Department of Defense

A decade after the implementation of Nixon’s urinalysis program, drug use in the military was significantly reduced. This prompted the Department of Defense to formally define forensic drug testing requirements in the military. This involved establishing panels of active duty scientists to further develop and implement forensically sound drug testing procedures for all branches of the military.

The Reagan Administration

The Reagan Administration expanded much of the Nixon Administration’s efforts on drug testing. This group played a pivotal role in expanding drug-free workplaces from federal agencies into the private sector.

Quest Diagnostics

Throughout the 1980’s, another huge leader in workplace drug testing was Quest Diagnostics. This organization is credited for introducing the first Drug Testing Index (DTI). This system was designed to examine positively rates and create comprehensive reports of drug use trends throughout the workforce. This added a lot of fuel to the fire for Congress passing the Drug-Free Workplace Act and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1988.

The Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportation was also a key player in workplace drug testing. In many ways, the DOT set an example for the much of the private sector. When the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act was passed in 1991, the Department of Transportation required all DOT job applicants and employees to submit to drug and alcohol testing.


Drug testing can vary greatly from industry-to-industry. However, the general consensus is that it can solve a number of problems related to safety, productivity, health insurance claims, and legal proceedings. Here is brief look at how drug testing impacts certain industries across the United States.


Gambling, in general, is a booming industry in the United States. Not only are casinos a place that operate face-to-face with patrons, most establishments are open 24/7 and have millions of dollars flowing through their system every single day. Due to the fast-paced, nonstop work environment, many casino workers are affected by depression and physical ailments. These factors can often times result in drug abuse. For this reason, casinos require workers to submit to pre-employment drug tests, as well as random screenings.


The correctional system in the United States involves several different sectors. These include incarceration, rehabilitation, parole, probation, treatment centers, and sober homes /halfway houses. While drug testing policies will vary by state or institution, pre-employment drug screenings are the standard at most correctional facilities. These are typically done with a background check. Some facilities also require employees and inmates to submit to random drug testing.


Drug testing is not required by law in corporate offices. However, many companies choose to have a drug testing program for their employees. The details will vary from company-to-company. This is in accordance with state law and corporate policy.


Construction workers are often working long shifts and spend a considerable amount of their time around heavy machinery. Furthermore, studies have found</a> that the construction industry has one of the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse. In many cases, drug testing is required for employees in public organizations. While some fall under the requirements of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s policies, most drug testing is done in accordance with owner, contractor, or union concerns relating to productivity and safety.


Drug testing is not currently required in schools. But, some schools hold the right to test teachers and students if there is reasonable suspicion of drug use. For teachers, testing positive may result in termination. For students, drug testing might be required to participate in extracurricular activities. Ultimately, drug testing is done at the discretion of the school.

Energy and Utilities

Being as how most energy and utility companies are run by the federal government, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) requires these companies to drug test their employees. Due to federal requirement, companies typically institute a 5-category test. However, some test panels are used to identify up to 12 different categories.


Nearly all agencies of the federal government require employees to submit to drug testing, both pre-employment and random. However, not all state and municipal agencies require ongoing screenings. But in the case of an accident, many are required to test the employee(s) involved.


Healthcare professionals are constantly coming in contact with patients. Whether it be nurses, physicians, surgeons, those who work in pharmacies, ect., their actions have a direct impact on patients’ wellbeing. For this reason, almost all healthcare facilities require employees to submit to drug testing. However, drug testing is not required across the entire healthcare industry. In fact, this industry has one of the highest rates of drug addiction among its employees. Testing policies will vary from facility-to-facility. In the case of the accident, the staff in question will likely undergo mandatory drug testing.

Homeless Shelters

Drug testing is not required in homeless shelters. Nonetheless, being as how these places are meant to help those in poverty, many organizations will have residents submit to drug tests as a way to create an environment of stability and help them get back on their feet.


The hospitality industry thrives on customer interactions. The hospitality sector is divided into two categories: food and accommodation. Nowadays, online reviews can essentially make or break a hospitality business. As of now, drug testing is typically implemented in the larger, multinational companies. Being as how there are so many smaller companies, like restaurants and motels, a drug screening program is not always feasible.


Another industry that works with heavy machinery, most of the United States’ factories and workshops require drug testing. To many companies, the “Made in America” stamp is a symbol of craftsmanship of the highest quality, thus, many work hard to maintain this reputation throughout the day-to-day practices. In the case of an accident, the employee in question usually must submit to a drug screening.


Similar to hospitality, the retail industry is all about positive exposure and customer service. In an industry dominated by Yelp, Google, and Facebook reviews, businesses in this field must preserve a high level of professionalism throughout each and every interaction they have. Employees in this industry suffering from drug and alcohol abuse are not only putting their own safety and reputation at risk, they are impacting the company’s bottom line. While drug testing is rarely required, many companies are implementing a policy across the entirety of their operations.

Oil and Gas

Oil rigs are one of the most dangerous work environments in the world, and many employees are working 12-14 hour days. Furthermore, they are constantly exposed to environmental hazards and heavy machinery. Simply put, there is no room for drug abuse in the oil industry. The International Association of Oil &amp; Gas Producers and International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conversation Association have worked to develop a set of global drug testing guidelines for the oil and gas industry.


These days, most high-level sporting organizations require their athletes to submit to drug testing. This applies to those competing at collegiate, professional, and Olympic levels. The purpose is to detect steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. In fact, the first official drug testing program in professional sports was implemented prior to the 1968 Olympic Games. The biggest organizations in the United States, including the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA, and IOC all have mandatory drug testing policies for their athletes.


The staffing industry is perhaps the biggest gray area when it comes to drug testing. While drug testing is not often required for the staffing employees themselves, the nature of the job involves finding workers to fill a wide range of positions. Depending on the position and the company those workers are being recruited to, they might have to submit to drug testing at some point in the process.

Tech and Software

As the digital age advances, the reliance on big data analytics is becoming a necessity for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Some even claim that big data is now more valuable than oil. With so many businesses dependent on big data, there can be no mistakes from those in the tech and software industry. Any miscalculation can potentially spell disaster. Maintaining a drug-free workplace in this setting is necessary to maintaining America’s reputation as the global leader of the technology revolution. The tech and software industry is still relatively new, and as more and more industries become dependent on the systems produced by these companies, drug testing may very well be required in the future.


In accordance with DOT regulations, employees who are in safety-sensitive positions must be drug tested. These positions apply to those in aviation, mass transit, railroads, pipelines, and trucking. Transportation is one of the most regulated industries in terms of drug testing. Both the DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Administration have strict pre-employment and post-accident drug screening for all employees. There are also random drug tests that take place from time to time.

Advantages and Positive Effects

Promotes Workplace Health and Safety

This one happens before a single sample is taken from an employee. Simply having a drug testing policy in place shows that the organization promotes a secure and more functional work environment. Being as how many industries, especially those in federal agencies, are working for the good of the general public, drug testing programs demonstrate a high regard for not only the employees involved, but for all the people whom the organization affects. Due to a strong correlation between drug testing and lower accident rates, some state and private insurance companies will even decrease workers’ compensation premiums to companies who have a drug testing policy.

Drug testing programs also work to educate employees about the dangers associated with drug abuse. Many of these programs come with employee training and information curriculums.

Leads to Better Productivity

A study conducted by the Global Drug Policy and Practice</a> found that roughly one-fifth of companies experienced an increase in employee productivity after implementing a drug testing program. Additionally, a pre-employment drug screening program can weed out employees who are unable to stay clean. Workers who abuse drugs are prone to tardiness, absenteeism, and poor performance. By screening these individuals out, companies can reduce risk involved with each new hire.

Helps Employees Who Are Dealing with Drug Problems

While there are certainly companies that fire workers who test positive, there are some that offer second chances. Furthermore, many companies across certain industries will even help their employees by getting them into recovery and rehabilitation programs. Ultimately, this benefits both parties. The employee gets a chance to distance themselves from drug abuse, keep their job, and continue to support their family, while the employers keep their experienced worker(s) and cut down on turnover.

Reduces the Potential for Theft in the Workplace

People who are addicted to drugs typically find themselves in constant need of money to support their habit. People in desperate situations can resort to stealing. This can affect other workers, and the organization as a whole. With a drug testing program in place, companies can better identify drug abusers and take appropriate action to combat theft.

Disadvantages and Negative Effects

While there are many worthwhile advantages to implementing a drug testing program in the workplace, there can be a number of drawbacks attached.

The Cost

Depending on the extensiveness of the drug testing program, drug kits can be very expensive. For this reason, organizations must critically analyze why exactly a program would be beneficial. Furthermore, they need to have hard numbers for why it makes fiscal sense.

Has drug use been a big enough threat to productivity?

How often will drug tests be administered?

Will the healthcare premiums be lowered enough to justify the overhead costs?

Drug Testing Can Have an Adverse Impact on Employee Morale

While some may view drug testing as the employer’s commitment to providing a safe work environment, others may see it as an authoritative statement. Prior to implementing a drug testing program, employers need to examine the rationale. For example, if employees are working with heavy machinery that can cause injury or death to themselves and others, drug testing can be easily justified.

If there is no probable cause, drug testing may be seen as unconstitutional, especially in urine and hair testing, which can detect drug usage from weeks (or months) prior. If an employee used drugs on their own time in a situation not relevant to work, they can still test positive when they are not under the influence. In this instance, the main argument is that the activities of an employee during his or her personal time is not the business of the employer.

Challenges and Roadblocks

Drug testing, in any capacity, is far from a flawless system. From the very beginning all the way up to today, there have been, and still are, many challenges that employers face when implementing and executing drug testing programs.

Choosing an Effective Program

Perhaps the biggest challenge for companies is choosing a program that adequately suits their needs. Many think that drug testing is a simple, one-size-fits-all approach. In reality, drug testing programs will vary greatly from company-to-company. That being said, there needs to be a rock solid strategy in place for when employees will be tested, how they will be tested, what they will be tested for, and a number of other factors. Most importantly, the plan must be designed so there aren’t any blaring ways to cheat the system. For example, if employees have too long of an advanced notice before a drug test, they can take steps to get rid of the evidence of drug use, only to resume after submitting.

When looking deeper into the scope of drug testing, it’s very clear that there are all kinds of questions that come up from company-to-company. For one, there are many different levels of drug testing products and kits out there. Some are only designed to detect a handful of drugs, whereas others are much more extensive. Moreover, some kits are only meant to test for certain types of drugs. For example, sports organizations may only feel the need to test for performance enhancing drugs and omit other illicit substances.

Going beyond the testing kit itself, companies need to determine who exactly they will test (with the costs in mind). For instance, does it make more sense to only drug test employees who work with expensive company property like a company vehicle, or piece of heavy machinery? In this case, some employees might have free reign in terms of drug use, which could potentially result in an unproductive work environment.

Only Focusing on a Single Aspect

Another challenge, which is part of choosing a program, is focusing too much on only one part of the drug testing process. For instance, one of the most common roadblocks to combatting drug abuse in the workplace is only placing emphasis on pre-employment testing. Due to being a one-off event, the costs will inevitably be cheaper than a prolonged system. However, if there is a candidate with a history of drug use, they can take a break while they are unemployed to make sure they will pass the initial screening, only to return to their unhealthy habits after they get the job. This poses as a big threat to employer liability, and in many ways, defeats the purpose of trying to achieve a safer work environment. Furthermore, it essentially renders the pre-employment drug test useless, as the new employee can go back to using immediately after passing.

In any given disciplinary system, it’s almost certain that people will find loopholes and workarounds. Drug users have been working to counter urine tests for decades. There are all kinds of products and methods out there designed for users to pass the screenings. These include herbal urine cleansers, supplements to speed up the detoxification process, diluters, ect. There are even websites in which drug users can purchase clean urine and use as their sample. Some of these even come with plastic genitalia to trick supervisors.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs are perhaps the biggest gray area when for many companies implementing a drug testing system. While the basic tests only look for the major illegal substances, like marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroin, ect., they might not look for prescription drugs like painkillers, antidepressants, or amphetamines.

With the United States in the midst of an opioid epidemic, these drugs are easily abused and can be just as dangerous as illicit drugs. In fact, 40% of all opiate-related deaths in the United States are a result of prescription drug abuse. Lower level drug tests will often give prescription drugs a pass, either because they don’t test for them, or the drugs were authorized by a doctor.

Glitches in Administration

When designing a drug testing program, in any capacity, documentation is the lifeblood of the process. Ultimately, companies can pay top dollar for the most extensive program on the market, but, if the process is shoddy and the organization is poor, efforts are practically useless.

This not only affects the workplace; it can also hurt the company from a legal standpoint. For example, if there is an inconsistent pattern for testing ALL employees, this is a solid defense if an individual feels they are being personally targeted. This can get even more complicated if an employee is fired due to a failed test. Moreover, in the case of an accident, an employee could potentially avoid disciplinary actions if they tested positive, but the paperwork was lost or mismanaged. The result being that the work environment will remain dangerous.

Changing Marijuana Laws

Even though companies aren’t liable for conduct outside of business hours, marijuana can potentially have an impact on job performance and competency. Most of these issues arise from the shifting state legislation in regards to marijuana usage. Over the past decade, these laws have been changing like crazy across the country. There are currently 8 states where marijuana is legal for recreational use, and over half the states in the country allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

Due to changing laws, the standards for drug testing aren’t always crystal clear. For example, an employee may have a certain condition, such as back pain, nerve damage, or issues with appetite, that warrant a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana. In states that allow this, firing an employee that tested positive can open the door for a myriad of problems. Additionally, some states, like Arizona and Delaware, have laws that restrict employers from taking adverse action against job applicants or employees for medical marijuana use that doesn’t directly affect their ability to perform their jobs safely.

Issues of Legal Compliance

Marijuana laws aren’t the only factor that pose as a challenge for drug testing in the workplace. Drug testing laws in general can vary quite a bit, either from state-to-state, or industry-to-industry. While most companies do not go out of their way to evade laws, mistakes and oversights can happen.</p><p>Worst case scenario, the company gets flagged for noncompliance, in which the costs can be detrimental. In the 40+ years that drug testing has been involved in the workplace, the legal spectrum has grown from about 12 state laws and 100 court cases to more than 600 state laws and over 12,000 court and agency decisions that impact drug testing. While not all the statutes, regulations, and court decisions will impact your particular business, some certainly will. For that reason, it’s vitally important to keep up with both state AND federal laws that pertain to drug testing in the workplace.

There’s no denying that this task is a bit overwhelming. But the cost of an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) or OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) violation can be much, much worse.

How Organizations Adapted

As a whole, drug testing in the workplace can be described as a constant process based around research, implementation, trial and error, more research, and refinement. Given all the major challenges that drug testing has presented since the 1980’s, companies have had to do a lot to ensure their workplace regulations keep employees safe, eliminate guesswork, and reduce loopholes; all while staying compliant with state and federal laws. Here are some of the major ways in which companies have adapted to the challenges.

Outsourcing to Specialized Drug Testing Agencies

When it comes to choosing an effective program, many companies have had to learn a lot of things the hard way in creating an airtight system. A very common mistake that companies make is relying on HR reps who are not well-versed in workplace drug testing protocol to build a program from the ground up. A poorly designed system opens the door for drug abuse while costing the company money in the process. For this purpose, many reach out to drug testing agencies who are specialized in helping companies of all sizes and industries create an effective program for employees.

These agencies are able to work closely with HR departments and other department heads to properly assess day-to-day workflows and determine when drug testing is ideal, how often, and what type(s) of tests are necessary. For example, a big challenge is knowing when a drug test is needed in relation to “reasonable suspicion.” An experienced drug testing agency will be able to help companies identify red flags that signal drug abuse. These typically include

  • Erratic behavior at work
  • Significant drop in performance
  • Correlation between the effects of certain drugs and behavior in the workplace (e.g. uncoordinated movements, slurred speech, dilated pupils, ect.)
  • Reports from other employees
  • Objective evidence of drug use at work

Furthermore, the agency is likely aware of every trick in the book for deceiving the system. If the issue is prevalent, they can design a protocol in which the test subjects cannot cheat or tamper with results.

Ultimately, while working with a specialized agency might cost more than building a drug testing program in-house, over time, the effectiveness and precision of a professionally designed program will yield the desired results while putting every dollar to good use.

Work with Medical Review Officer (MRO)

The issue of drug testing employees who use prescription drugs will always be a sticky situation. Many employees use prescription opiates, antidepressants, and amphetamines legally, which can result in a failed drug screening. If handled poorly, the company could potentially be faced with an ADA violation, a hefty fine, or even a lawsuit.

Rejecting new candidates or reprimanding existing ones that test positive for prescription drugs must be done VERY carefully. The safest practice is to reach out to a Medical Review Officer (MRO) to review test results. If the screening comes back positive for prescriptions drugs, the MRO has a defined, legal protocol for contacting the employee or candidate for an explanation, as well as to provide legal proof of a prescription. If the individual can provide this documentation and valid reasoning for the drug usage, the MRO will mark the test “negative.” If not, the MRO will mark the test “positive” and give the employer the green light to execute disciplinary actions. While this determination is more or less black and white, the gray area deals with safety concerns. This is why hiring an MRO is highly advisable.

If the candidate/employee provides acceptable proof of a prescription and justified usage, the MRO will need to assess the drug in which the individual tested positive for, along with the responsibilities of the position. If the MRO notes a safety issue between these two factors, they will mark the results “negative with a safety concern.” For example, if an employee is prescribed pain killers and the job requires them to operate heavy machinery, this would likely be a safety concern. From here, the employer can make the decision for how to act appropriately.

Keep a Constant Eye on Marijuana Laws

Changing marijuana laws in the United States have been a big issue for companies over the last several years. Depending on the nature of the workplace, marijuana use can make the environment unsafe – no law is going to change that reality.

As more and more states legalize medicinal and recreational use, drawing the line becomes difficult. However, only state laws allow legal marijuana use at this time, not federal. The ADA does not protect medical marijuana, either. Therefore, companies can legally test employees for it.

In federal agencies, nearly all drug screening protocols test for marijuana use, and testing positive will likely result in disciplinary actions. In the private sector, most companies approach the constantly-changing topic of legal marijuana based on the job itself. For instance, if an employee is responsible for handling expensive company property and whose actions could potentially pose as a threat to their own safety and the safety of others, marijuana is strictly tested for.

While many companies do not feel the need to dictate activities outside of working hours, most do not want their employees to come to work under the influence of marijuana. For this reason, employers must look for signs of marijuana intoxication. These typically include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • Smokey smell
  • Mental fatigue

Currently, there is a push for developing a breathalyzer, or a similar field test, to determine whether or not an individual is currently under the influence of marijuana. Ideally, if an employee is showing signs of intoxication, the employer could test them on the spot.

Chances are, marijuana laws are going to be a constant obstacle for workplace drug testing in the foreseeable future. HR departments need to keep themselves updated on all the changes in legislation.

Future Outlook

Drug testing in the United States is a concept that is constantly changing around current events, laws, and government standpoints. However, the general consensus is, for the most part, drug testing has yielded positive results in creating safer and more productive workplaces across the board.

With demand steadily on the rise, sales of drug testing equipment is forecasted to reach $4 billion by 2022, per Drug Testing: Technologies and Global Markets.

Currently, the United States is in the midst of a transitional period. With big changes in Washington D.C. comes changes to drug testing regulations.

Recent Changes to Legislation

The Obama Administration

The Obama Administration was very adamant about promoting safer and more productive workplaces. In 2012, the National Drug Control Report reported that the federal government encourages businesses of all industries to drug test employees as means to reduce health care costs.</p><p>“While we believe that employers can use testing as one of a variety of tools to help guide employees suffering from substance abuse disorders into treatment, it is certainly not our policy that every employer in America ought to test and punish employees.” -Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Furthermore, the White House claimed that these measures were not aimed to punish drug users. The overarching goal is to urge employees to get the help they need to beat their addiction.

This report came at a time when a number of state and federal proposals were advocating drug testing requirements for welfare and unemployment recipients. The goal being that these individuals would have to prove they are not on drugs in order to receive government benefits. Many Republicans in support of these rules argued that if companies required their employees to submit to drug testing, the government should do the same for those seeking federal assistance. Democrats argued against the notion to drug test all unemployment recipients; noting that the measure was punitive and costly. Bill Piper, a lobbyist for the Drug Policy Alliance, claimed that the Democrats’ opposition to this proposal was hypocritical, as the White House had just announced their support of drug testing Americans in the workforce.

In February of 2012, Congress gave states the leeway to drug test unemployment claimants applying for jobs in industries that typically require a pre-employment drug screening.

On February 22nd, President Obama signed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which extended unemployment benefits and made a number of reforms to the unemployment insurance (UI) program. Most notably, it overturned the 1960’s-era Department of Labor (DOL) ban on testing UI applicants for illegal drugs. This rule mandated that states could test applicants who were looking for work in fields that normally require regular drug testing. Additionally, it allowed states to test UI applicants who previously lost their job due to drug use.

Moreover, it suggested that if a worker lost their job due to drug abuse, that worker would have established the notion that he or she is not fully “able” to work. If they cannot take a new job because they are unable to pass a required drug test, they are listed as “unavailable” for work. The intent was that the states would be able to restrict benefits for those who failed drug tests, as well as create programs to those individuals to overcome drug abuse.</p><p>For this provision to be implemented, the DOL was required to define “any occupation that regularly conducts drug testing.”

It took the DOL over four years to issue a final regulation. The process concluded in August of 2016. The list of occupations was essentially limited to transportation and pipeline industries, in addition to jobs that required carrying a firearm.

The final rule went into effect on September 30th, 2016.

The Trump Administration

Within the first few months of taking office, President Donald Trump aimed to undo the Obama-era legislation in regards to drug testing the unemployed. The Republicans argued that Obama’s rule was “too narrow” and needed to be expanded.

On March 31st, 2017, Trump signed a bill which effectively scrapped the drug testing rules the Obama Administration put in place the previous year. While many Republicans have been adamant about broadening the states’ authority to require drug tests from those applying for unemployment, critics argued that this bill did very little to accomplish this. In fact, some claimed that it actually took away some of the limited authority that states already had. At the time, this act was seen by many as counter-productive.

Less than a year later, The Department of Labor, under Trump, planned to reissue a regulation with a similar background, which would once again allow states to drug test certain people. The difference being that the new law would greatly expand the rules so they apply to many more people seeking unemployment benefits. As one of the key aspects of Obama’s rule mandated that applicants would only be tested for jobs in industries that typically require drug testing, the Republicans wanted the new rule to include industries in which drug testing was merely permitted – significantly widening the scope.

Another big change the Trump Administration is looking to make is drug testing those seeking food stamps and welfare programs. Wisconsin has already begun the process of putting this rule into effect, along with a number of other states.

In terms of drug abuse overall, Attorney General Jeff Sessions (appointed by Trump) currently has an approach that more or less mirrors the political mindset throughout the War on Drugs. In contrast to President Obama’s stance that drug addiction should be seen as a health issue, Sessions views it as a criminal issue.

Marijuana Legalization

Marijuana legalization has been one of the hottest political topics of the past decade.

During Obama’s presidency, he called for a re-thinking of the federal government’s policy on marijuana.

“It is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that’s legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another,” said Obama in an interview with The Rolling Stone.

Throughout his presidency, marijuana remained classified as a Schedule I drug. The DEA passed on the opportunity to reschedule it in August of 2016, after being forced to respond to a mass-circulated petition.

While many states legalized marijuana use for medicinal and recreational purposes under Obama, very little was done on the federal level. Many pro-marijuana advocates stated that they wished he had taken more action during his presidency. They claimed he didn’t have a solid stance on the issue until the final months of his time in office.

“It would have been very helpful if he had taken more concrete positive action on this issue before it was almost time to vacate the Oval Office. That this president didn’t apply pressure on the DEA to reschedule marijuana will likely go down as one of the biggest disappointments of the Obama era,” said Tom Angell, activist in the Marijuana Majority pro-legalization group.

On the 2016 Presidential Campaign Trail, Donald Trump was adamant about leaving the topic of marijuana legalization up to the states. However, as President Trump was choosing his cabinet, it was clear that his selections were primarily against the topic. Most prominently was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a long-time vocal advocate against legalization. In early 2018, Sessions encouraged federal prosecutors to bring charges wherever the drug was legal &#8211; rescinding an Obama-era policy. This came right after the state of California passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational use. This created a great deal of confusion as to whether or not it was completely legal to sell, buy, or possess marijuana in places where state and federal laws contradict.

So, what does it all mean for drug testing?

Being as how marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, companies are still within their bounds to screen for it and take action as they see fit – which could include terminating employees who tested positive for THC. Generally speaking, there are very few protections across the country for employees who fail a drug screening.

It’s important to note that even in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical or recreational use, <strong>those laws contain clauses that exempt employers;</strong> which in turn, essentially leaves policies to their own discretion.

However, many companies (in states where marijuana is legal) are finding that they simply cannot afford to have a zero-tolerance approach to the drug. For example, in 2017, Colorado had an unemployment rate of 2.3% &#8211; the lowest in the country. Construction companies were having problems finding dependable talent at the current wage level. With approximately 1-in-7 adults using marijuana in Colorado, many companies were finding that by disqualifying applicants who tested positive for THC, they were further depleting the already-thin talent pool.

In some cases, this issue has created a great deal of tension between employers and workers.

Current Drug Problems in America

Drug abuse has been a huge problem in America for decades. In recent years, these problems seem to have worsened. Since the turn of the millennium, drug overdoses have claimed more lives than car accidents and gun violence.

A comparable event in the United States was the HIV epidemic in the 1980’s.

Opioids have been the leading category in the surge of drug-related deaths in the United States. Since 1999, heroin-related deaths have risen by 439%!

It’s important to note that the drug problem in the United States extends much further than opioids. In fact, the opioid crisis is only part of the issue. A study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine found that cocaine-related deaths among blacks is on par with opiate-related deaths among whites.</p><p>Overall, drug overdoses have been on a steady increase over the past two decades. Some states are affected worse than others.

In October of 2017, President Trump declared a 90-day public health emergency to address the opioid crisis in the United States. However, Trump did not request any funds, and made little mention of expanding medical treatment that many argued was crucial in addressing the issue.

Inevitably, the drug epidemic has spilled into the workplace, especially in the public sector. The number of truck drivers, bus drivers, commercial pilots, pipeline workers, and railroad operators failing federal drug tests has risen by 77% since 2006.</p><p>This spike in drug abuse has led to a change in workplace drug testing across the country. As of the beginning of 2018, the DOT requires employees to conduct drug tests specifically for opioids. This rule applies to aviation workers, railroad employees, commercial motor vehicle drivers, transit workers, marine employees, and certain pipeline personnel.

Companies of all industries are strongly encouraged to conduct more thorough testing for opioids in safety-sensitive positions. However, there are several key factors to keep in mind throughout this process.

  • Ensuring all state drug testing laws are followed.
  • Clarifying drug-free workplace policies, including which substances will be tested for, when employees will be tested, as well as the consequences for testing positive.
  • Having an MRO analyze positive test results to determine whether or not the drug use was illegal, and how it affects the employee in performing the job safely.

Opioids in the workplace can be very dangerous to everyone. By placing a heavy emphasis on a program that thoroughly tests for this drug category, companies are better protecting their employees and their business.

How to Choose the Right Program

Given all the problems that drug use can bring into the workplace, changes to legislation, and all the new approaches to the issue, creating a drug-free workplace and employee drug testing policy</a> for your organization is no simple task.

If employers plan on reaching out to a specialized drug testing agency for assistance, they need to have a rock solid understanding of their own company, their employees, the nature of the work, and why drug testing would benefit everyone involved. This knowledge forms the basis for what the program should include, and how it will be implemented/maintained.

Start by listing your goals.

Do you want to boost productivity?

Deter employees from using drugs?

Create a safer workplace?

Boost morale?

Educate employees on the dangers of drug addiction?

Increase the company’s credibility?

Next, you’ll need to identify the potential problems and hazards in which drug use would negatively impact a safe and productive work environment.

Exactly how detrimental is absenteeism to your bottom line?

Have there been drug-related incidents in the past?

Then, figure out the ideal protocol in which you want this program to be executed.

Will you only have pre-employment drug testing?

Do you want to have random drug testing?

Do you want to have scheduled drug testing? How often?

How much notice will you give employees?

Will a drug screening be required after an accident?

What exactly determines “probable cause?”

From here, you need to determine how in-depth your drug screenings will be.

Which drug categories are you going to test for?

What type(s) of test will you use?

If an employee tests positive, what will be consequences be?

Will they be suspended with (or without) pay?

Will you refer them to a treatment program?

Should they have to complete mandatory steps to rehabilitation?

Will you give them a second chance? Third chance? Fourth?

What does it take for an employee to be terminated?

Most importantly, you need to conduct thorough research on the state laws. Be sure to that you have a firm understanding of ADA and OSHA requirements to avoid costly violations.

Lastly, you need to critically assess the overhead costs of implementing a drug testing program against the benefits it will have on your employees, their safety, and the bottom line.

A drug testing agency will be able to help a lot in getting your program up and running. However, they can only do so much. The better prepared you are when you meet with a specialist, the more effective your drug testing program will be.

Wrapping up

Drug testing will likely be a constant factor in the workplace for the foreseeable future. In the United States, there is a lot going on in terms of drug abuse and regulations, a trend that will likely continue for years to come.

Ultimately, in the face of marijuana reform, the opioid epidemic, and changes in the government, the undying objective of workplace drug testing is to keep employees safe while promoting a healthier, more productive work environment. As an employer, it is your responsibility to carry out the necessary tasks that accomplish these goals.

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