Increasing Positive Drug Tests Send American Jobs to Immigrants

People walking into an American factory.

While immigration controversies hit the front pages of news media over the last year, behind the headlines, America’s drug problem has been turning some jobs over to drug-free immigrants. The phenomenon has become more pronounced as more companies use drug testing to weed out prospective employees who might have accidents or cause injuries due to impairment from drugs or alcohol.

In New York Times coverage of this problem in 2016, several employers interviewed stated that they were having trouble finding drug-free employees because of the greater legality of marijuana and the opioid problems so prevalent in the Midwest, New England, Great Lakes and other areas.

By 2017, CNN reported that some of these vacant jobs were being taken by immigrants who had not had access to illicit or prescription drugs in their home countries. CNN cites the White Castle food processing plant as an example. It has so many refugee employees that “it’s become like the United Nations,” according to a company vice president.

As employers struggled with the right way to approach drug use by their employees, Colorado’s Supreme Court further weighed in on this issue. In 2015, the Court ruled that a Colorado business has the right to fire an employee for failing a drug test due to marijuana use, even though use of the drug is famously legal in that state.

Hot Issue for Employers

As the costs of employing drug- or alcohol-using employees became better known, more employers have opted to add drug testing to their employment procedure.

Man works at a dangerous task in a plant.

How do drug- or alcohol-using employees impact employer? According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD):

  • Workers with alcohol problems were 2.7 times more likely than other workers to experience injury-related absences.
  • Thirty-five percent of patients with an occupational injury were at-risk drinkers.
  • Breathalyzer tests detected alcohol in 16% of emergency room patients injured at work.
  • Among workplace fatalities, at least 11% of the victims had been drinking.
  • Workers who report having three or more jobs in the last five years are about twice as likely to be current or past year users of illegal drugs as those who have had two or fewer jobs.
  • Marijuana is the most commonly used drug by employees, followed by cocaine, with prescription drug use steadily increasing.

The NCADD also noted that 70 percent of the nearly 15 million Americans who use illegal drugs are holding jobs, which means that maybe as many as ten million impaired workers on our assembly lines, processing our food or providing services in hospitals, restaurants, offices and other locations.

As noted by the New York Times, some states give a company a break on their worker’s compensation insurance if they are certified as drug-free because a lower incidence of work-related injury can be expected.

In jobs involving transportation, there are very specific laws in place that mandate drug testing after accidents or when an employer suspects drug use. Random testing of drivers should also be performed. While not every violation can be detected and caught, these laws help keep our roads and highways safer.

Drug-Free Is Safest

In being employed, in parenting and in just living a productive life, being fully alert and unimpaired by drugs or alcohol is the safest, healthiest and most enjoyable way to live. Every drug comes with health risks as well as the risk of addiction or accidental harm. Our dedication at Narconon is helping individuals return to lasting health and sobriety. If we can be of service to you or someone you care about, please contact us immediately.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.