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Workplace Drug Testing and Worker Drug Use


  • Christopher S. Carpenter

    1. UC Irvine
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    • Address correspondence to Christopher S. Carpenter, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Economics/Public Policy, The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, 443 SB, Irvine, CA 92697-3125.


Objective. To examine the nature and extent of the association between workplace drug testing and worker drug use.

Data Sources. Repeated cross-sections from the 2000 to 2001 National Household Surveys on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) and the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

Study Design. Multivariate logistic regression models of the likelihood of marijuana use are estimated as a function of several different workplace drug policies, including drug testing. Specific questions about penalty severity and the likelihood of detection are used to further evaluate the nature of the association.

Principal Findings. Individuals whose employers perform drug tests are significantly less likely to report past month marijuana use, even after controlling for a wide array of worker and job characteristics. However, large negative associations are also found for variables indicating whether a firm has drug education, an employee assistance program, or a simple written policy about substance use. Accounting for these other workplace characteristics reduces—but does not eliminate—the testing differential. Frequent testing and severe penalties reduce the likelihood that workers use marijuana.

Conclusions. Previous studies have interpreted the large negative correlation between workplace drug testing and employee substance use as representing a causal deterrent effect of drug testing. Our results using more comprehensive data suggest that these estimates have been slightly overstated due to omitted variables bias. The overall pattern of results remains largely consistent with the hypothesis that workplace drug testing deters worker drug use.