The Ventura County grand jury has recommended drug and alcohol testing for county employees, estimating that 18% to 20% may have substance-abuse problems. Many county officials call the recommendations intrusive. What do you think?
Oscar Fuller Ventura County assistant sheriff We’ve taken the position that we’re opposed to mandatory drug testing of our department employees. We have not had any significant evidence of abuse among
employees in the Sheriff’s Department. We feel at this time to demand or insist on mandatory testing would appear to be questioning their integrity. The few department employees who have responded to the county grand jury’s report say they are not happy with it. I think we’re always concerned for the potential for a growing drug problem, and I’m not naive enough to believe we’ll escape it entirely. But at the moment, we haven’t had a problem and we’re constantly looking for indications of drug abuse. . . . Most of my people have been trained in drug abuse and they’re probably going to pick up on it right away if someone in the department, one of our employees, displays the behavior of a drug abuser.
Michael D. Bradbury Ventura County district attorney I’m a longtime advocate and supporter of mandatory drug testing, for two reasons. I think that with the tremendous cost that drug use causes this government,
government needs to set the example, not only for the public but also for business and the private sector as well. Let’s start saving the taxpayers the kind of money drug use in the workplace costs. . . . Secondly, I believe that if government and the private sector had a pre-employment requirement that you had to test clean for drugs . . . that would send a message. If young people coming out of school know they’re going to have to pass a drug test to get a job, that would be an important tool for counselors, teachers, parents and others to help convince young people not to use illegal drugs. And I believe the law enforcement agencies and elected officials ought to set an example by testing themselves. Alcohol is the most abused drug in the country and we deal with that through employee assistance programs. Those same programs are available to drug abusers as well. But I’m absolutely convinced that the savings in the long run make mandatory testing more than cost-effective. . . . Most of your major corporations have already gone to mandatory testing and I think that’s your best indicator of its cost-effectiveness.
John Flynn Ventura County supervisor I would be opposed to the mandatory drug testing of county employees. I don’t think we have a serious problem among the county’s 6,000 employees. I move around the county departments fairly frequently and although I’m not an expert at detecting people under the influence, I haven’t observed any behavior that would cause alarm. I think it really could turn into a very costly process. There could be mistakes made in the actual testing. I also think it borders on a civil liberties issue. Rather than testing, I would rather have county government concentrate on the wellness programs, prevention programs and counseling to prevent drug abuse. Since the grand jury made its report . . . I have gone out of my way to be more observant and I just don’t think there is that kind of problem. Some employees have difficulties, in that our society as a whole has difficulties, but we’re not going to overcome them by running everyone through a drug-testing program. Plus any kind of challenge to the testing procedure could end up in costly court cases. I just don’t think this is a way to address a minor drug or alcohol problem in the county. There are better ways to deal with the issue.
Arthur E. Goulet Ventura County public works director I guess my answer would be tempered by the fact that we have had no widespread experience or belief that there is a substance abuse problem in our work force. That
is not to say there is no problem, and indeed we deal with those cases on an individual basis. But it hasn’t evidenced itself to such a degree that we feel mandatory testing has to be done. And I think part of the reason is that with a limited number of exceptions, the bulk of our work force is not involved in an activity that may be dangerous to other people. There are obvious exceptions of course. Somebody operating a large piece of equipment or driving a heavy truck on the road can, if they’re under the influence of an outside agent, cause damage to themselves or others. Most people are not engaged in activities of that nature. We supervise our employees and if we suspect a problem we take appropriate action. We have a stringent safety and driving policy. We consider a person’s driving record away from the job as well as on the job in making judgments as to whether an employee will be allowed to operate equipment for the county. Thus far, it appears the way we have approached the problem is sufficient to keep it under control. We will work with an employee who has a problem. We think people should be given an opportunity to clean up their act.
Barry L. Hammitt Executive director, Public Employees Assn. of Ventura County
Based on everything I know and that has been brought forth in the drugs-in-the-workplace committee that has been in existence for about eight months,
there is no indication of a problem among county workers. In almost 16 years on the job, to my knowledge only two employees had a drug-abuse problem which affected their work. From their standpoint, it is really not cost-effective to force people into drug testing for political mileage. I think if I were going to stand for election it would be wonderful to get on the soapbox and say that you are tough on drugs. Most public opinion polls tend to indicate that public concern over drugs is right up there near the top, partly because I think the media makes so much of it. County employees are basically older, predominantly white-collar professionals. Most of them are married and have families and they just don’t fall into the stereotype of drug abusers. Some county employees are concerned drug testing is an invasion of their privacy and they’re incensed that anyone would propose that. If a worker makes a mistake on the job or gives an indication of a problem, then management should have some ability to go forward and test the person. But doggone it, don’t go around on a witch hunt.
Steve Kingsford Ventura County assistant superintendent of schools
From what I read there is a lot of controversy about drug testing. My general understanding of court opinions on the subject is that the court will not uphold mandatory drug
testing, with the exception of very restricted groups of people working in jobs affecting the health of citizens. Even though I’m not a lawyer, I don’t think there is a good legal basis for drug testing. Secondly, we have had very, very few drug-related personnel problems over the last several years--bearing in mind, of course, our work force is trained to deal with kids who have drug problems, counseling them and so forth. We might expect that our employees would be somewhat less likely to come to work under the influence than in other industries. I can see no reason at this time for any across-the-board mandatory testing or even an attempt to try to put the idea in place. If an employee is suspected of being under the influence and it is affecting their performance, then there are steps we can take to follow up on that problem.