Interviews BLOG

USSA Interview on Drug Testing with Serhat Pala

United States Staffing Association interviewed Serhat Pala of TestCountry. Serhat shares some of the challenges employers face today with substance abuse.


Serhat, for those that may not know, tell us a bit about TestCountry and your service to the staffing industry.

1. TestCountry is primarily a service provider for the staffing industry. The staffing industry is about human resources and unfortunately, substance abuse affects a portion of the people that the staffing industry works with. Our goal is to empower the staffing industry to help weed out substance abusers, by showing staffing professionals that drug testing can be convenient and inexpensive and all this will, in turn, help them provide a better service to their clients.

Among the most important services that we provide to the Staffing Industry are: All kinds of workplace drug testing options like lab collected urine/saliva/hair drug tests at over 8,000 locations, pre-employment testing, and background screening programs that can be managed together with pre-employment drug testing and hundreds of convenient and cost-effective instant tests like urine test cups, oral fluid devices, hair follicle tests, alcohol detection kits, and nicotine tests.

What is the TestCountry mission?

2 - The TestCountry mission is to provide end users with as many options for testing as possible. Our goal is to bring cutting edge testing technologies to the end users directly. There are amazing technologies out there for testing pretty much anything you want to. But most of the time that technology is not available to the average end user. At TestCountry we make that happen. We bring the testing technology to whoever needs it in the most cost-effective and efficient way. We are talking about anything from workplace drug testing like we mentioned before, simple at-home cholesterol testing to testing the air/water quality of your home, testing your pets for possible kidney infection or testing the metal toxicity level in someone's hair to monitor workplace conditions.

The tests that we offer include tests that give instant results and tests that require being sent to a laboratory to get results. TestCountry provides health and wellness tests for people who want to test just about anything having to do with their health, their home, and even their pet's health.

What areas of screening and testing do you specialize in?

3. Drug and substance abuse testing is a huge part of our business and we pride ourselves on being able to not only provide drug tests and drug testing services, but also in providing services for creating an affordable and thorough drug testing policy.

But to say that we specialize in drug and substance abuse testing is to do a disservice to all the other types of tests that we have available. In addition to ones I've already mentioned, we have thousands of different tests but what we really specialize in is getting to know our customers and offering superior customer service.

What are the different types of drug tests on the market today?

4. Urine tests, hair tests and, most recently, saliva tests.

Urine tests are the standard in most industries. They involve collecting a sample of urine and subjecting it to analysis for traces of drugs. They can detect drugs in a person's system almost immediately after ingestion and for several days after the drugs are ingested. You can get urine tests that can be done anywhere and offer instant results or you can send people to a laboratory for collection and testing. It is possible to cheat urine tests, but that is becoming more and more difficult to do. Urine tests are somewhat invasive, though, and can make collection difficult at times.

Hair tests are more expensive than urine tests. They involve cutting a sample of hair near the scalp (but the sample doesn't need to be head hair, though) and sending the sample away for laboratory analysis. They can detect traces of drugs in a person's system several days after the person uses the drugs. But hair tests can give you a comprehensive drug history of the person going back three months. There are no instant results available for hair testing. They are virtually impossible to cheat. It is a great test to absolutely make sure you have a drug free environment.

Saliva tests are a serious contender to become the standard type of drug test. They are convenient, difficult to cheat, inexpensive and you can get instant results with them. Saliva test kits can detect drug use immediately after drugs have been ingested but only for a few days. The collection process is the least invasive out of the three.

The most important thing to remember about drug tests, though, is that when comparing them, you're not comparing apples to apples. The type of drug testing you should be doing is dependent on a lot of variables. For example, if your company employs a lot of white-collar employees who have access to sensitive information, you would probably want to opt for the more expensive but more thorough hair testing. If your company is in the hospitality industry or has a lot of blue collar workers, you might opt for the less expensive urine or saliva tests. That's why at TestCountry, companies that are looking at starting a drug testing program can consult with us and we will use this information to create the best possible drug testing policy for them.


What are the top substances you see most abused in the workplace lately?

1. Out of almost 12 million drug tests done in 2011, almost 3.5% came back positive. That is about 400,000 positive cases. The ratio was lower for the Federally mandated safety-sensitive workforce (like drivers and airline pilots) at around 1.7%. The number to keep in mind for the staffing industry, though, is that almost 4% for potentially positive tests. Marijuana for sure is the top drug concern that we encounter. Almost half of that 4% positive I mentioned happened for Marijuana. That is followed by prescription drug abuse, which is a concern for both young and older employees. (Oxycodone and opiate-based prescription drugs were the top two groups). Prescription drug abuse seems to be a concern mostly for urban, white-collar employees. All together they made about 30% of all positive drug test results. Amphetamine and Methamphetamine were the third most common group. About 15-20% of positive results came in this category. Next, I'd say synthetic drug abuse, which is a concern among young employees. Only very recently (in 2012) testing for some of those synthetic drugs became available. So there are no established rates there. But I see this problem increasing since these drugs are readily available and very inexpensive. TestCountry also sells instant synthetic drug tests.

The old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Talk about the preventative value that TestCountry brings to its clients.

2. The most obvious preventative value that you get with a drug testing policy tailored to your specific company is that it prevents drug abusers from even applying for jobs with your company because they know they will have a greater chance of being caught. The saying "the best time to fire someone is before you hire them" applies to pre-employment drug testing policies.

It's easier to talk about the benefits of a drug testing policy, and those include: increase in productivity, improvement in product and service quality, fewer sick days, a decrease in injuries, a reduction in the number of Workers Compensation claims, stabilization of Workers Comp and health insurance premiums and reduction in the damage or disappearance of company equipment.

According to a nationwide SAMSHA study, 70% of all drug abusers in the country are currently employed. The drug abusers are 10 times likely to miss work, and 3 times more likely to be less productive than an average worker. They are 5 times more likely to file for workers comp. They are almost 4 times as likely to get into a workplace accident. They cost on average twice more than an average worker with regards to their healthcare cost. And due to all those reasons, they tend to change jobs almost 3 times more than the rest of the workforce. Since 70% of all drug abusers are currently working somewhere, I am sure a significant portion of them have employed also in the staffing industry.

One of my favorite questions to ask my guests is what is one of your greatest success stories?

3. The owner of a Las Vegas company in the hospitality industry approached TestCountry to help him set up a drug testing policy for his company. He only did pre-employment drug testing before but he had problems with employee-related theft and a high absentee rate. We helped him set up a random instant drug testing program that he did in-house himself at low cost with instant saliva test kits, followed by confirmation lab tests for all positive test result. He announced the new program that would be starting in a month to his employees and underlined how serious he was. Even before he started his drug testing program, the owner said that about 1/4 of his employees quit, and most of them went to work for his immediate competitors. He was very happy with the results.

I can't say for certain that all the employees who quit from his company were abusing drugs, but the fact that they quit rather than get tested is a pretty good indication that they probably were. This situation perfectly illustrates why drug testing is so effective; not only did this company owner get rid of probable drug abusers, but those people also gravitated toward his competition, becoming their problem instead of his.


Let’s talk a bit about the TestCountry process. I know that you take a partnership approach with your clients. Can you talk about the consultative approach you take?

1. The first thing we do with our clients is looking at their goals when it comes to drug testing. We also take into account the industry they're in, their geographical area, their budget and how serious they are about drug testing.

Some companies just do drug testing because they feel like they should have it in place for how it looks. While others have already experienced problems with drug abuse and really want to work on having a drug-free workplace. Either of these situations is fine, but we do need to know what the company's goal to begin with.

This one-on-one consultation is the key to creating an effective drug policy for clients because it conveys to them that they don't need to get a pre-packaged off-the-shelf drug testing strategy, they can have one tailored to them.

What are the screening best practices that every employer should have in place?

2. The only thing that all drug testing programs should have in common is that they should all have a drug testing policy in place before starting. Any company wanting to initiate drug testing should have a policy that addresses it with as much detail as possible. Your policy will then dictate how testing is done.

No two companies are going to be the same and therefore there are no screening practices that every company should have in place. We emphasize that drug testing should not be thought of as one thing (urine testing, for example). There are so many options that the best thing to do for any company is to define your drug testing goal and go from there. If you start with a well-defined goal, you will end up with a drug testing program that is perfect for your business.


What trends or common mistakes you see employers make with their drug testing practices?

1. Not doing enough research, only testing a certain segment of the workforce, not having a goal in mind when they want to start drug testing. And maybe the most common mistake is starting a drug testing program to catch one specific person.

If you feel that you know for sure that one specific person in your company has a drug problem, but you just can't prove it, you're opening your company up to a lot of risk and expense just to catch that one person. If you introduce drug testing into your company to improve it overall, then that person you believe has a problem will eventually be taken care of once the drug testing program is in place. They will quit or be caught eventually. There is no need to target any one person specifically.

Are there any risks that staffing firms should be mindful of when it comes to drug testing?

2. Have a process. Have someone responsible from this process in your organization. If you make mistakes, if you don't follow the rule of the law of course there will be some risk. The question is not to do drug testing or not to do it to mitigate that risk, but doing it properly. Don't target one person, prepare and stay on the process.

That brings me to my final question. What one piece of advise would you give to companies researching drug testing programs?

Take your time and think of drug testing together with other pre-employment screening like background screening. Recognize that there are pre and post-hiring elements to drug screening.