Gulfport's Drug Testing Policy Could Get More Teeth

More teeth may be added to Gulfport's somewhat outdated drug testing policy. If the Gulfport City Council adopts the drug testing changes that will be proposed Tuesday, crystal meth will become one of the illegal drugs that the city randomly tests its employees for. Right now, it's not on the testing list.

Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan says it should be.  He also believes you have every right to expect that when rescue personnel get dispatched to an emergency, they aren't on drugs. "If you've got a one percent chance that somebody here is using an illegal drug, that's too much," the chief said outside the downtown Gulfport fire station. Sullivan says the problem in Gulfport is the city has a drug and alcohol testing policy for its workers that's missing a key component.

Cheryl Lowell knows what that component is. "It doesn't allow for us to do random drug testing," the city's human resources director said.

Lowell took over that position 13 months ago. And she quickly noticed a problem with the drug testing manual. "We do pre-employment drug testing. But we can't test those individuals after they're hired," she said. So, Lowell got the adminstration's approval to rewrite Gulfport's drug testing policy and give it some teeth. "The change is random drug testing, and some reasonable suspicion if we think it's the cause of an accident," she explained.

On Tuesday, Ms. Lowell will present her drug testing proposal to the Gulfport City Council. In the introduction of the 13 page document, Lowell writes, "There is considerable evidence that alcohol and/or drug use can result in impaired work performance and may pose significant risk to impaired employees, co-workers and the public at large." The rest of the addendum spells out how the drug testing would be done.

Chief Sullivan was told a computer would randomly choose 25 employees a month. Those employees would come from public safety, public works, human resources, finance and legal departments.

If the random test determines they have drugs in their systems, the policy proposal says they could be immediately fired. "Any percentage for us is too much," said  Sullivan.

The human resources director who rewrote the drug testing manual concurs.  "We have to redefine this policy. It has to have more teeth in it in order to be effective," Lowell said.

If Gulfport adopts the new drug testing rules, they would be implemented in 30 days. Again, the city council will take up the drug testing policy change at Tuesday's 2:30 meeting.