What is "The War On Drugs"?

Drug abuse in the United States is nothing new. Although many people think that illegal drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other street drugs became a problem for youth in the 1960s, the truth of the matter is that there has always been a drug problem in the United States when it comes to substance abuse. Many of the drugs that are illegal today, such as heroin, were widely used and available over the counter in the early part of the last century.

Drug testing in the US did not come into play until the late 1980s as part of an effort to combat the “War on Drugs” that was instituted by the Reagan administration. Prior to that, there was no standard for drug testing in the workplace, school or even in sports. In the late 1980s, despite protest from civil rights activists, many companies, particularly those that were involved in industries where workers under the influence of an illegal substance could harm others, began testing for drugs. The Reagan Executive Order also allowed for random drug testing for workers in the Department of Transportation. Many companies also have adopted random drug testing policies since the 1980s, particularly those where employees work with heavy equipment or machinery that may be a danger to others. There are many methods of drug testing that have been used in the United States over the years. Urine tests were the standard for drug testing and are still used today by those companies that perform random drug testing on employees or pre-employee drug testing. Urine drug testing is not considered to be the most effective tool for drug testing as they can only detect drug use within the past week, although they can detect the use of the most commonly used illegal drugs. In the 1990s, stricter laws were enforced regarding drug testing for drivers.  Prior to that period, drivers were often tested for alcohol, but not drugs when involved in an accident or other probable cause. Saliva tests are often used by police as a way to test for drugs. Saliva tests are less costly and less intrusive than urine tests and can detect the most commonly abused drugs. Drugs that can be detected using a saliva drug testing kit include the following:

    • THC (includes marijuana and hashish)

    • Opiates (includes heroin, opium, morphine and even prescription opiate drugs)

    • Benzodiazepines (sedatives or ‘downers’)

Other forms of drug testing that have been used over recent years include sweat patches, which can detect drugs in the system for longer periods of time. As opposed to saliva or urine testing, in which the drug is detected only if has been used recently, sweat drug patches can detect if drugs have been used for up to two weeks. Hospitals will usually perform blood tests which are accurate when it comes to screening for drugs, but are costly. They will detect drugs in the system for up to three weeks. Hair samples, not often used in standard drug testing, can detect drugs in the system for up to six months. Many companies have pre-employee drug screening as a routine part of hiring. Employers that have random drug testing policies have to notify employees of this policy prior to employment according to law. Most companies that perform drug testing use either urine, sweat patches or saliva testing kits to detect illegal substances in the system. Today, kits for drug testing are available to the general public. These can be used by those who want to see if they have drugs in their system as well as parents who want to detect drug use in their children.