April 21, 2024

Drug Testing

Pushing Drug Tests

The private sector has a big stake in decisions by schools to expand drug testing.

Gina Edwards | 10/1/2004
If drug testing has a head cheerleader, it's Joe Reilly, founder of Palm Bay-based Florida Drug Screening Inc.

Reilly, 47, qualifies for the job by way of his spring election as chairman of the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association, a 1,200-member group representing the $6-billion-a-year drug-testing industry that's scoring public policy touchdowns in Washington.

In the halls of government, DATIA is pushing acceptance of random student drug testing, drug-free workplace programs and alternative drug-testing methods that check hair, saliva and sweat as opposed to urine.

In Florida, Reilly represents the industry on a panel created by the Florida Office of Drug Control that's coming up with recommendations on promoting drug-free workplaces. To encourage employers to test workers for drugs, Florida requires that insurance companies give a 5% discount on workers' compensation insurance to companies that test, implement and maintain a drug-free workplace. A bill signed into Florida law in June requires that insurance carriers notify businesses of the discount.

The Florida Office of Drug Control sees workplace testing as a key way to reduce adult drug use. The number of businesses participating in Florida's drug-free workplace program has increased dramatically in the last five years, from 7,006 in 1999 to 12,297 in 2004. Panel advisers like Reilly hope to help the state encourage more of Florida's 250,000 eligible businesses to participate in the drug-free workplace program.

Reilly has focused his own company, Florida Drug Screening, on marketing to small businesses, which he sees as a big untapped market for the testing industry. The strategy has worked. Reilly, 47, says his testing consulting business has grown from $100,000 in sales in 1997 to more than $2 million this year. His company helps set up and coordinate 75,000 drug tests a year.

Reilly, a Manhattanite who moved to Florida in 1981, got into the drug-testing industry after operating restaurants and bars and later working as a consultant to the alcoholic beverage industry. He is passionate about decreasing drug abuse. "It's touched my life, and I think it touches almost everyone," he says.

To critics, Reilly says employer background checks are a bigger invasion of privacy than drug tests. "People have a right to make sure employees aren't going to jeopardize their business or other employees," Reilly says. "Drug testing is a great deterrent. Some people are on the edge. They might be a casual user, and that can lead to an addiction."

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