Navy Recruiting Urinalysis Program: History And Implementation

The Navy's urinalysis drug testing program tackled a major problem head-on and through its success became a recruiting standard for others facing similar situations.

There were countless men on board ships in the 60's and 70's who lost their lives either directly or indirectly through the widespread abuse of drugs in the Navy.

Loss of good judgment, feelings of invincibility, disregard for authority, inability to concentrate, as well as all the additional pressures associated with being involved in illegal activities, made for a disastrous combination. Jammed full of high-energy electrical, hydraulic, and fuel systems, Navy ships are full of potential danger. Only strict procedural disciplines, careful training and clear minds prevent damaging equipment and injuring personnel under the best of conditions. A quarter century ago, much of that was often lacking and the results were brothers being ripped apart by rotating equipment, sons being electrocuted, and fathers meeting their deaths in fiery airplane crashes.

Out of that environment was born the Navy's urinalysis program, a highly controversial initiative for those days. Violations of rights, unreliability of results, implementation costs, as well as the issues of entering uncharted legal areas all made great subjects for heated debate at all levels. It was a testimony for just how serious the drug problem had become that, in spite of all the opposition and resistance, the implementation of the urinalysis program continued unabated.

Painfully at times, the program met each obstacle as it arose and adjusted accordingly. The biggest challenge was creating a system of accountability that would hold up in court. It became necessary to develop procedures that would establish an unbroken chain of absolute custody from the moment a specimen was produced until the results were presented in court as evidence. This involved everyone from the collection witness, through the entire transportation chain, the laboratory personnel, and the data processors. The final objective was to be able to prove that out of the millions of samples taken and analyzed, each result could be accurately tied to a specific individual who had been tested on a specific date.

Has the journey been worth it? Over the years the Navy's urinalysis program has evolved into a highly efficient and effective tool. It's near perfect reliability and ability to withstand legal scrutiny has made it a model for the corporate world. It has been expensive, but no one will argue that the losses of operating "under the influence" were many factors higher. Still somewhat embarrassing at times but improved procedures and more mature attitudes have minimized that aspect. Computerized programs have steadily improved accountability while reducing the costs in terms of both money and manpower.

The greatest dividends resulting from this program are intangibles. The greater peace of mind co-workers and family members can now have because of the vastly improved conditions both on and off the job. The outcome of the program was a significant positive change in attitudes that resulted in a groundswell of initiatives to improve the workplace and the personnel in them. Today the Navy has set new standards for how large organizations can play a positive role in combating other problems such as alcohol abuse, smoking, physical fitness, discrimination, and sexual harassment.

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