Knowing the Dark Side: Hoffman-La Roche and DATIA

DATIA and drug testing

The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) is a rather low-profile lobbying association in Washington, D.C., and one of many within the District.  Nonetheless, it is an important presence. Advocates of freedom for adult marijuana use, sales, production, and investment should know their foes, and should know for example that DATIA was the motivating force behind passage of the Drug Testing Integrity Act of 2008, which made products designed to help people “defraud a drug test” illegal.

Behind DATIA in turn one finds the drug-testing management firm Bensinger, DuPont & Associates of Chicago.

Peter Bensinger, the fellow who gives that firm’s name its start, also heads another organization with a related mission but a much more dramatic name, “Save our Society from Drugs.” Note that SOSFD sounds like the name of an organization of outraged ordinary laypeople who are afraid of the scourge of drug use, whereas DATIA sounds like the name of, well, an industry association. It is polemically useful to have both organizations working for their common cause, even if the puppeteers are the same.

Bensinger, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration from the late Ford administration, through the Carter years and into the early months of the Reagan administration, was more recently one of nine former DEA administrators who sent Attorney General Eric Holder a letter urging him to sue the states of Washington and Colorado over their marijuana legalization measures.


Since the Reagan Years

A lot of water has flowed past the Bridge of Now since the Reagan years. Back then, importantly, Hoffman-La Roche was one of the first Big Pharma firms to splash into the drug-testing pool. Known then as the maker of Valium and sleeping pills, Hoffman established one of the first big drug testing laboratories in the United States, and won a contract with the U.S. military, so it was making $300 million from drug testing by 1987.

In 1988, Hoffman-La Roche decided military and governmental testing wasn’t enough, it wanted to get corporate America on board, so it began a campaign called “Corporate Initiatives for a Drug-Free Workplace.”

Soon it was 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab that even without reasonable cause for suspicion, employee drug testing of federal employees doesn’t violate the fourth amendment.

So we move forward to 2005, when Paul Armentano wrote about the Cozart RapiScan, a saliva testing system from Cozart Bioscience that “comes in a spiffy silver suitcase and consists of an oral fluid collection swab, a disposable test cartridge, its own handheld digital computer, and a portable printer ‘for a permanent record of test results.’”


A Limit to Cozart’s Market

The Cozart test has had great commercial success since, going as such things go from the gee-whiz-cutting-edge days of Armentano’s day to something more ho-hum and ubiquitous. On a purely scientific and technological level, the new tests are difficult to criticize. Their accuracy with regard to both THC and opiates, and their freedom from operator bias, have held up to testing.

The more is the pity, then. When technologies are pitted against freedom, what is to be feared is not that the technology won’t work but that it will.

One important limit on the market for a spit-analysis system was that the federal government was quite restrictive about the types of drug tests it would allow for its employees. Only urine tests were allowed. So new gee-whiz technology was welcomed, but only so long as its raw material was provided by the old-fashioned pee cup.

When Armentano wrote, too, DATIA was behind a push to allow “less intrusive” forms of drug testing, that would change this, and open up the federal-agencies market to the wonders of Cozart.


Serious Weight

Nothing much resulted from the flurry of activity on the subject around 2005, or from another flurry five years later. However, another five years later, in early September 2015, a spokesman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services stated the following in an email to a reporter at MJINews: “At the present time urine-based testing systems are the only ones officially used” in the federal system. So there is still work for DATIA to do in that line.

Despite something of a standstill on the spit-versus-urine issue, DATIA’s weight should be taken seriously. It represents more than 1,200 companies and it has hired a major lobbying firm, Washington Policy Associates. David Evans, who was a consultant for Hoffman-La Roche in the 1980s and its point man on drug testing matters, now has his own lobbying firm, and he is reputed to ghostwrite state laws in the field, via the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Since the turn of the millennium, DATIA and its members have looked on schoolchildren as their new frontier. If they can sell to schools, public and private … well, the idea gets their heads rolling. A representative from Bensinger, DuPont & Associates has called education “potentially a much bigger market than the workplace.”

The point? Any drive to cap state legalization in several states with a seal of approval from Washington, D.C., will face powerful and determined opponents: not just the “cultural warriors” who see any alternative lifestyle as bad, but large corporate entities with profit streams at stake. That doesn’t mean the fight isn’t worth waging, only that it should be waged without illusions.

Christopher C. Faille, a Jamesian pragmatist, was one of the first reporters taking the hedge fund industry as a full-time beat, at the turn of the millennium, with HedgeWorld. His latest book, Gambling with Borrowed Chips, treats of common misunderstandings of the crisis of 2007-08.

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