Thirteen Spokane city employees flunked drug tests or refused to take them in 1995, according to city officials.
Eight of the 13 lost their jobs. The rest signed contracts agreeing to undergo drug treatment and submit to random testing. In all, 345 workers were tested for either alcohol or drugs under the first year of a federally mandated program. None tested positive for alcohol.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed that there’s anybody using drugs…,” said City Manager Roger Crum. “But obviously the program works. We’re making sure to weed out those who might be a hazard to the public.”
Another 14 employees, apparently motivated by the threat of losing their jobs, asked for help kicking drug and alcohol habits before getting tested.
“I have a feeling this might cause people to go get themselves cleaned up,” said personnel director Jim Smith.
Smith and union representative Randy Withrow refused to name the workers fired or placed in drug rehabilitation programs.
“I see no useful purpose in publishing names,” Withrow said.
Smith did not immediately know which departments the fired workers are from, but only people with commercial driver’s licenses are tested. Most city workers with commercial licenses drive garbage trucks, streetmaintenance equipment and parks department pickups.
The 3.7 percent drug-test failure rate is about twice the national average for government employees, Smith said.
But he said the rate is usually highest during the first year of a testing program - dropping after drug-abusing workers lose their jobs and others get the message.
The city tests 18 workers a month, with names drawn randomly on testing day. One-third are checked for alcohol and two-thirds for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs.
Of the 13 workers flunking or refusing drug tests last year, six were fired. Two others quit after refusing to participate, Smith said. Testing positive doesn’t mean the employee is “high” or drunk on the job, he said, since traces of some drugs remain in the blood system for days or weeks.
Employees who test positive are immediately relieved of their duties. They can return to work if they sign contracts agreeing to participate in substance-abuse treatment and more rigorous drug testing.
Five of the workers fired last year failed their first drug test, came back to work and flunked again, Smith said.
Withrow, the union representative, disputed the city’s figures. By his count, six workers have been fired for failing tests and one quit rather than take one.