Drug Testing Program Frequently Asked Questions

Impaired judgment or reliability by employees as a result of drug use could have disastrous, immediate, and long-term effects upon public health and safety, the quality of the nation's environment, and national security. The purpose of the NRC Drug Testing Program is to identify any illegal drug use in a carefully controlled and monitored manner while respecting the employee's personal dignity and privacy so as to achieve a drug-free workplace.

Who is tested?

As part of the NRC Drug Testing Program, all NRC employees are subject to drug testing.

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Random testing

Unannounced testing whereby all employees have an equal statistical chance of being selected for testing on a scientifically valid basis.

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Reasonable suspicion testing

Testing conducted when management has reason to believe that an employee may be using illegal drugs. Management's belief must be based on specific objective facts and reasonable inferences from these facts.

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Applicant testing

Testing of tentative selectees who have not, immediately prior to selection, been subject to randon drug testing.

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Injury, illness, unsafe, or unhealthful practices testing

Testing of employees authorized because of an accident or unsafe practice that occurred during the performance of the employee's job.

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Follow-up testing

Testing of employees who have completed an NRC approved rehabilitation program. These employees are subject to unannounced follow-up testing for a specified period of time following rehabilitation.

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What provisions are made to ensure that "reasonable suspicion" testing is not abused?

The NRC Drug Testing Program provides specific guidelines for authorizing reasonable suspicion testing. The authorization must be based on specific objective facts and reasonable inferences drawn from these facts and must be concurred in by an Office Director or above. "Hunches" or anonymous calls are not in themselves sufficient to meet this standard. Reasonable suspicion can be based on, for example, direct observation of drug use, observation of the physical symptoms of being under the influence of a drug, identification of being the focus of a criminal investigation into drug-related activities, or arrest or conviction for a drug-related offense.

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Which drugs does NRC test for?

The NRC random, applicant, follow-up, and voluntary programs test for the following five classes of drugs: marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and amphetamines. When conducting injury/unsafe practices or reasonable suspicion testing, NRC may test for any drug(s) (including those mentioned above) identified in Schedule I or II of the Controlled Substances Act, as deemed necessary.

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What are the testing procedures?

Each part of the testing procedure is designed to guarantee the maximum amount of fairness and caution. Testing is conducted by laboratories that meet the strict mandatory standards established by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). A negative result is taken as evidence that the employee has not used the drugs for which she or he was tested. If this initial test is positive, a more specific test on a second portion of the same specimen is conducted. If a negative result is obtained, then the overall test result is reported as negative. However, if a positive result is obtained, the process continues.

All confirmed positive results are reviewed by a Medical Review Officer (MRO). The MRO is a physician responsible for, among other things, evaluating alternate medical explanations for a positive result. The MRO contacts each employee who tests positive in order to evaluate alternate medical explanations with the employee and/or with his or her physician. The MRO may request re-analysis of the original specimen. The MRO's review responsibilities are performed prior to the transmission of a confirmed positive test result to NRC administrative officials. This procedures assures that information known to the MRO concerning an employee's medical background remains strictly confidential, except for a confirmed positive test result. Therefore, the MRO provides an additional check on the technical aspects of the system and provides an additional level of screening and evaluation between the employee, the laboratory, and NRC administrative officials.

The remaining portion of any specimen that is confirmed positive is frozen for at least 1 year. This specimen is available for possible retest during administrative or disciplinary proceedings.

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With regard to personal dignity, are employees watched during collection of the specimen?

In most cases (e.g., normal random testing), the specimen is provided in the privacy of a toilet stall or similar enclosure without direct observation. Collection site personnel of the same gender as the employee tested, however, may observe the individual provide the urine specimen when there is reason to believe the individual may alter or substitute the specimen to be provided when (1) facts and circumstances suggest that the individual has equipment of implements capable of tampering with or altering urine samples, (2) the individual has previously tampered with a specimen, or (3) the individual has just given a sample and a temperature measurement indicates possible tampering/adulteration/substitution.

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What assurances are there that my test results are really mine?

The NRC Drug Testing Program mandates a strict "chain of custody" to provide this assurance. To ensure that the urine specimen taken from an employee is properly identified and is not accidentally confused with any other specimen, strict procedures are used when collecting, transferring, and storing the specimen.

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What assurances do employees have that prescriptions or other medications they are taking will not show up as illegal drug use?

When a positive test could have resulted from legal use of prescription drugs, the MRO will contact the employee for information, pertaining to any prescription medications, including the name of the treating physician. Legal use of prescription drugs is when (1) the medication is used by the person for whom it was prescribed, (2) the medication is used for the medical condition for which it was prescribed, and (3) the prescription was written by a physician in the normal performance of his or her duties. If the MRO determines that a positive test result was because of use of the legal use of prescription drugs, the MRO will report the test result as negative. If, however, the MRO determines that the test result was not because of the legal use of prescription drugs, the MRO will report the test result as positive.

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Will employees be fired if they test positive?

Any employee found to be using, selling, or possessing illegal while in a duty status may be removed from the NRC or have his/her access authorization (security clearance) suspended under 10 CFR Part 10. If not removed, the employee will be required to undergo an NRC approved rehabilitation or education program, and will be subject to possible reassignment. However, if the employee declines rehabilitation or uses drugs again, the NRC shall initiate action to remove that employee from Federal service. For additional information on the drug testing program, please contact the Division of Facilities and Security at 301-415-6546.

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The Safe Harbor Program

A fundamental purpose of the NRC Drug-Free Workplace Plan is to assist employees who themselves are seeking treatment for drug use. NRC takes disciplinary action against any employee found to use illegal drugs in every circumstance except one: if the employee enters the Safe Harbor Program. Upon entering the Safe Harbor Program, NRC does not initiate disciplinary action against employees who meet all three of the following conditions: voluntarily admits his or her drug use, completes counseling or a rehabilitation program, and thereafter refrains from drug use.

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How can an employee participate in this program?

Since the key to the rehabilitative effectiveness of the Safe Harbor Program is an employee's willingness to admit his or her problem, to participate in this program the employee must voluntarily disclose illegal drug use to a supervisory official in his or her management chain prior to receiving notification of selection for randon testing. Since employees are not aware of the date they will be required to provide a urine specimen, this serves as an incentive for early disclosure by the employee. The Safe Harbor Program is also not available to employees found to have used illegal drugs by direct observation or through evidence obtained from an arrest or criminal conviction. For additional information on the Safe Harbor Program, please contact the EAP Counselor (Marsha.Stein@nrc.gov) at 301-415-7113.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, June 30, 2021