Reasonable Suspicion and Recognizing Drug Abuse



Reasonable suspicion of drug use is not a new concept for employers. It can, however, be a difficult situation for many employers to adequately and appropriately navigate when it arises.

Drug use is detrimental to workers and organizations within all industries, especially those regulated by government entities such as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In order to understand the severity of employment-related drug abuse in any industry, however, it is important for employers to first understand the various effects controlled substances have on employees.

Currently, the most common and heavily-regulated substances include: Amphetamines, Cocaine, Marijuana, Opiates, and Phencyclidine (PCP). The effects of each drug vary. However, all have the propensity to pose significant safety risks to the user and others, as well as costly property damage. Please refer to the chart below for the common effects of each substance:

Controlled Substance



Decreased motor coordination, lethargy, disorientation, altered time and space perception, lack of concentration, impaired learning and memory, alteration of thought formation, drowsiness and sedation, paranoia and panic, fatigue, psychosis


Loss of inhibition, confused and disoriented behavior, delusions, hallucinations, irritability, antisocial behavior, aggressiveness


Induced sleep, cold and moist skin, restlessness, nausea, slowed breathing, drowsiness, visual distortion, hallucinations, loss of consciousness


Rapid flight of ideas, rapid speech, motor restlessness, hallucinations, psychosis, insomnia, poor impulse control


Flushing, profuse sweating, grimacing facial expression, speech difficulty, muscular incoordination, excessive salvation, nausea and vomiting, severe anxiety, seizures

Reasonable suspicion drug testing may be warranted if and/or when the signs of potential use/abuse are witnessed. It is important to note, however, that employers in certain industries may be required to follow specific protocol to ensure regulatory compliance prior to testing an employee. Employers should familiarize themselves with industry regulations, where applicable. Individual company policies, drafted with the guidance of competent legal counsel, may also provide guidance.

Regardless of industry, it is beneficial for employers to implement the Five-D approach to reasonable suspicion. This approach calls for employers to:

  • Detect the change in behavior and take action
  • Don’t act alone – approach the employee in question with another supervisor/witness for accountability purposes
  • Discuss with the employee – give the employee the opportunity to explain
  • Describe, don’t diagnose – describe what you are seeing; do not be overly-specific or accusatory
  • Document the situation – document anything and everything that could help you build your case

Once these steps have been completed, it is important to communicate findings and results with all required personnel. Once a determination has been made to initiate a drug screen based upon reasonable suspicion, transportation to the testing site and/or an escort should be provided to the employee in question. Industry best practice suggests that employees should never be encouraged or allowed to drive themselves to testing sites.

If your company is interested in learning more about reasonable suspicion or establishing a Reasonable Suspicion program, please contact A-Check Global through our contact page, or by phone at 877-345-2021.

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