Americans Fail Drug Tests, Employers Hire Refugees


Americans Fail Drug Tests, Employers Hire Refugees

The share of the American workforce testing positive for illicit substances hit a 10 year high in 2015. This did not happen for just one type of drug, but everything from marijuana to meth, amphetamines to heroin. Entire states have declared states of emergency over their drug-use epidemic.

This slow-moving crisis has left employers scrambling for qualified workers, even in a job market that is nowhere near full employment. Many are manufacturers who took outsourcing and automation hits in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

“In the Sunday newspaper, there was a four- or five-page spread for employment advertisements and almost every one of them said, ‘Must pass a background check and a drug screen.’ So, there’s a lot of people who are unemployed as a result,” said Amanda Milleren, a drug-addiction counselor at Cove Forge Behavioral Health System in Erie, PA.

Enter the refugee. Last year, 84,995 refugees entered the US, huge shares from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, and Myanmar. In employment environments where 9%–20% of all drug tests are failed, many employers are turning to refugees as a source of labor.

“The big factories…they have a problem with the drugs, so like every time they fire someone, they replace him with the refugee, to be honest,” said Bassam Dabbah, who works at a US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants field office in Erie, PA. “The only barrier is the language, but they are picking it up very quick.”

In Louisville, KY, methamphetamine use is epidemic. Positive tests for methamphetamines are 47% higher than the national average. In the last 5 years, almost 6,000 refugees have settled in the region. Employers are hiring them at record rates to replace a workforce that is increasingly failing tests. Anecdotally, employers and testing companies are finding lower rates of drug testing failure among the immigrant community, who are staying in the once hard-to-fill jobs for much longer.

While employers are hiring as fast as they can to keep positions filled, the workers failing tests are increasingly speaking out. “I know that refugees need an opportunity when they come here, and employers give them the opportunity. But people like us that live here also need an opportunity,” said Bethany Kaschak, 34. “I’m not saying they don’t deserve it. But we deserve it as well.”

In areas of the country already hard-hit, a new labor force breathing life back into a local economy will create some shifts. Ready to work with a drug screening partner that understands your dynamic modern workforce? Learn more about working with ClearStar today!


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