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Tampa may launch drug tests for hiring

By next month, applicants for jobs with the city of Tampa may be required to take a drug test before being accepted for employment, joining a trend that is growing among municipalities in Florida. "I think it's the prudent thing to do, considering the national drug problem we have," said Sarah Lang, director of employee relations for the city. "We just want to make sure that those we do hire don't do drugs."

Lang said her department has been working on the policy for several months, and a final draft should be submitted to Mayor Sandy Freedman in November.

"It's ready to go," Lang said. "It just a matter of doing some last-minute checks."

Lang declined to explain all the details of the policy, because it still is in draft form. But she said not all applicants will have to take the test, only those who almost certainly will be hired. If traces of illegal drugs show up in their urine, they will be disqualified.

Richard Coane, director of personnel for the city, said his staff has estimated that each test will cost about $27. The test will become a part of the medical exam that an applicant already must have.

Coane said the city hires about 300 people each year, so the cost of the program could total $8,100 a year.

"We don't think this is going to be terribly expensive," he said.

The city's decision to implement a pre-employment drug-testing program is part of a trend among municipal governments. According to a study done in June by a University of South Florida professor, more than half of Florida's cities now test all job applicants, and the numbers have grown steadily since 1985.

This month, Hillsborough County began testing job applicants, said Frank Forbes, the county's director of human resources. Since the program began, 55 applicants have been tested, Forbes said. Of those applicants, two tested positive for illegal drugs and were disqualified.

The county has put aside $12,000 in this year's budget to pay for the pre-employment drug tests.

Like the county, the city's policy will involve a two-step program. An applicant will be required to take a preliminary drug test. If the first urinalysis comes up positive, then the applicant will undergo a second, more sophisticated urine test called a "gas chromatography" test.

Forbes said the second test has a low rate of false positives.

So far, Forbes said, county employees' reactions to the new policy have been positive.

The county's policy does not require that applicants be observed while they give a urine specimen, which, Forbes said, means there is a "slight possibility" that someone could substitute a sample.

The city and the county have had in place a program that allows supervisors to require a drug test from an employee if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is using drugs.

In addition, the city Fire and Police departments also have in place a pre-employment drug-testing program.