Pubdate: Sat, 19 Jan 2008
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2008 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Sarah Wunsch


EVERYONE SEEMS to be calling for random drug testing of Boston fire 
department employees, but there should be some dissent. Studies show 
that without-cause drug testing is not effective at reducing illegal 
drug use. Nor, contrary to popular belief, does it protect public 
safety or improve employee performance.

Testing does not test for drugs in a person's system; rather, it 
detects byproducts of past use. So drug testing does not detect 
employee impairment on the job, which can be caused by factors 
including illness, over-the-counter medications, or lack of sleep.

If city officials want to protect the safety of the public and 
employees, they might consider using performance-based testing that 
would detect impairment, regardless of the cause, usually by sitting 
an employee in front of a computer screen and testing various 
reaction times. Random, without-cause drug testing should not be 
imposed on fire department or other employees without analyzing the 
cost and effectiveness of such programs in comparison to impairment testing.

SARAH WUNSCH Staff attorney ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts Boston
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