10th Aug, 2020 Read time 6 minutes

The benefits to pre-employment drug testing

This information is provided for educational purposes only. Reader retains full responsibility for the use of the information contained herein. This article was provided by Abbott Toxicology

Substance use in the UK, especially cannabis and powder cocaine, is increasing.[1] So why are fewer and fewer employers conducting pre-employment drug testing? Quite simply, they fail to fully recognise the benefits.

According to data from Abbott’s toxicology laboratories, 1 employee in every 14 could be reporting to work whilst unfit to do so, which equates to 2.2. million people in work in the UK at any given time.[2] The benefits of pre-employment drug testing are just as applicable today as they have always been. In fact, with an increase in drug use, and the annual social and economic costs of drugs alone within England and Wales standing at £10.7 billion, the benefits are even greater than ever before.[3] They range from direct, short-term cost savings to indirect, long-term increase in quality work.[4]


Deterrence – Drug users don’t want to be drug tested

A few years ago, a large employer held a job fair in the US. When the throng of potential employees learned that the next step of the application process would be a drug test, about half of them left.[5] We cannot assume that all of them were drug users; however, we can safely assume that at least some of them aborted the application process because they were current drug users.

The value of drug testing can be measured in many ways, but perhaps the most significant way is knowing that drug users avoid drug testing. Often when drug users learn that a company conducts drug testing, they may turn around and walk out the door without even completing the job application. Before the can get hired, use company resources for onboarding and training or cause an accident, they apply for work at another company where drug testing is not conducted. By not conducting pre-employment drug testing employers unwittingly become “that other company.”


Direct Cost Savings – Return on investment calculations

Let’s crunch some numbers. The cost of a pre-employment drug test is less than the cost of having a drug user in the organisation. The average base pay for an entry level employee in the UK is £28,730 and it’s estimated that turnover costs for such an employee is £11,000.[6], [7] Using the US as an example, their National Safety Council reports that 25% of currently employed non-substance users have had more than one employer in the previous year, whereas 36% of workers with any substance use disorder have had more than one employer in the previous year.[8] That’s a lot of turnover at a high cost to employers.

Consider a company that conducts 100 pre-employment drug and alcohol tests. According to data from Abbott’s toxicology laboratories, drug testing results for UK workplaces, approximately 7 percent of all workplace screens are positive.[9] Using 100 as our base, 7 percent equals 7 positive results. That is 7 job applicants who could cost the company £11,000 each if they decide to quit and find a different job within the year, which they are more likely to do than employees who are not regular drug users. If all of them are hired and subsequently decide to leave the company, that would lead to £77,000 in turnover costs alone. To conduct 100 pre-employment screens at £65 per test will cost £6,500. If these candidates are screened out before they can become employees, that drug testing saves £4,500.

No matter what the actual number of pre-employment drugs tests you perform, the benefits speak for themselves. So even at a smaller scale, pre-employment drug testing offers a return on investment. And this is only considering turnover costs. Once employee’s benefits, lost productivity, and extra sick leave costs are calculated, the saving increases in an employer’s favor even more.


Other benefits to pre-employment testing

The pre-employment drug test is a good way to make the company’s culture in how it approaches drug and alcohol use clear to any new and prospective employee.  With the expectation of a pre-employment drug test, the new employee should be in no doubt that the company they are joining takes the risks associated with drug and alcohol use seriously.

For any individual with a history of recreational drug use, this will provide them with the motivation to make lifestyle changes that will have a positive impact on both their physical and mental wellbeing, as well as their relationships and income.  An employer who can motivate prospective employees in this way will be making a positive impact on the society they are a part of, thereby demonstrating their commitment to social responsibility.



Substance abuse is not going away. In fact, it is safe to assume that it will continue to spread globally. The number of illegal drug users has been increasing in recent years.[10] The full cost of this shift towards wider spread substance abuse is yet to be discovered, but will likely be a significant cost to employers. Employers can test for drugs and maintain a safe work environment. Drug testing is not only smart for public safety and workplace safety; it is also fiscally responsible for employers. An updated drug testing policy, continued education based on science, and statistical evidence, and continued pre-employment drug testing programs are beneficial to employers.



[1] “Drugs Misuse: Findings from the 2018/19 Crime Survey for England and Wales,” Office for National Statistics / Home Office, URL HERE Accessed 21 July 2020.

[2] “Risky Business – Drug use trends in the UK workplace.” Abbott Toxicology Ltd, URL HERE Accessed 9 July 2020.

[3] “2017 Drug Strategy”, HM Government, URL HERE. Accessed 21 July 2020.

[4] T, Buddy. “The Dangers of Substance Abuse in the Workplace.” Verywell Mind, 22 Mar. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/substance-abuse-in-the-workplace-63807.

[5] Calmes, James. “Hiring Hurdle: Finding Workers Who Can Pass a Drug Test.” The New York Times, URL HERE. Accessed 28 May 2020.

[7] How Much Does Employee Turnover Cost Your Business?” Croner, URL HERE. Accessed 21 July 2020.

[8] “Implications of Drug Use for Employers.” National Safety Council, URL HERE. Accessed 15 July 2020.

[9] “Risky Business – Drug use trends in the UK workplace.” Abbott Toxicology Ltd, URL HERE. Accessed 9 July 2020.

[10] “Drugs Misuse: Findings from the 2018/19 Crime Survey for England and Wales,” Office for National Statistics / Home Office, URL HERE. Accessed 21 July 2020.

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