10th Aug, 2020 Read time 4 minutes

The value of random drug testing

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

Drug use in the UK is on the rise. The Drugs Misuse: Findings from the 2018/19 Crime Survey for England and Wales, conducted by the Office of National Statistics and published by the Home Office, identified that around one in 11 (9.4%) adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a drug in the last year and around one in 20 (5.0%) adults within the same age bracket had taken a drug in the last month. This increases with adults aged 16 to 24 to one in five (20.3%) having taken a drug in the last year and one in nine (11.4%) within the last month.[1]

So how does this affect the workplace or equate into impact? The common theme is around saving money and of course, of paramount importance, safety, however implementing random drug testing can communicate much more about a company externally and to their employees, in addition to the facts and figures that support why it works.

What do drug detection rates tell us?

Data from Abbott’s toxicology laboratories, testing on behalf of UK Employers, has shown a drug detection rate of 7% from the samples tested. This percentage had an upwards trend over time with 8.4% testing positive in 2016. That means that one worker in every 14 could be reporting for work whilst unfit to do so, which equates to 2.2 million people in work in the UK at any given time.[2]

In addition to this, there are also some other key things observed. In terms of:

  • Prevalence, the detection of cannabis and cocaine are the highest and that their prevalence rates have increased over the past five years.
  • Demographics, a difference in detections within age brackets, illicit drug use was more likely to be detected in the under 30s, with the over 40s more likely to be taking pain killing medication.
  • Regulation, an interesting point, industry and regulated drug testing have an impact; higher drug use was detected in the construction (10.9%), utilities (10.5%) and retail (9.3%) industries whereas the more regulated sectors transport (5.4%) and energy (4.7%) were significantly lower.

Although random drug testing has a proven history of effectiveness, some industries place restrictions on how random testing can be conducted.

Random drug testing removes the notice that other forms of testing, such as pre-employment, can provide, and removes the allowance to get clean in order to pass the test, random testing is exactly that – random. By removing this notice and making employees subject to random testing employers are more likely to provide a true picture of employees using drugs and be able to manage the risk to their business, helping to create a drug safe workplace.

The unannounced random testing of employees is a key part of managing the risks of drug and alcohol use in the workplace. The company strategy for risk management of drug and alcohol use should be comprehensive and include support, awareness, education and training as well as control measures such as pre-employment, for cause and random testing, so that employees have the necessary tools to contribute to the reduced risk.

Random testing is a good way to assess the ongoing effectiveness of the company strategy and drug and alcohol testing policy. For example, an increase in positivity rates from random testing when started can be used as a benchmark for ongoing review and assessment. Ongoing random testing also keeps the drug and alcohol policy fresh in the minds of employees and the constant possibility of being tested will also act as a deterrent for those who may be tempted to continue using drugs and alcohol in a way that poses a risk to the company.

However, to maintain the deterrent factor, consideration should be given to the proportion of employees who are tested, since testing at a low proportion of 5% of employees per year means that the likelihood of an individual being tested is once every 20 years. Creating the correct balance here means the random testing will also detect occasional drug and alcohol misuse and highlight individuals who are posing an unacceptable risk to the company.



Random drug testing is one of the smartest investments a company can make, especially when drug use is increasing, and current drug users are finding their way into the workplace. A random drug testing program can help reduce costs, improve an employer’s bottom line and create a drug safe workplace.


[1] “Drugs Misuse: Findings from the 2018/19 Crime Survey for England and Wales.”National Statics Office / Home Office, URL HERE Accessed 9 July 2020.

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

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