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The Effectiveness of Workplace Drug Prevention Policies: Does 'Zero Tolerance' Work?


  • Stephen L. Mehay
  • Rosalie Liccardo Pacula


Workplace drug testing programs are becoming increasingly more common although there is little research demonstrating that they have any effect on drug use by employees. This paper analyzes the deterrence effect of a particularly aggressive workplace drug- testing policy implemented by the military in 1981. The military's policy incorporates random drug testing of current employees and zero tolerance. Using data from various years of the Department of Defense's Worldwide Survey of Health Related Behaviors and the NHSDA, we find illicit drug prevalence rates among military personnel are significantly lower than civilian rates in years after the implementation of the program but not before, suggesting a sizeable deterrence effect. These basic findings are replicated with data from the NLSY. The NLSY are also used to explore sensitivity of the deterrence effect to the probability of detection and severity of punishment, which varied across military branches during the first few years of the program's implementation.

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  • Stephen L. Mehay & Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, 1999. "The Effectiveness of Workplace Drug Prevention Policies: Does 'Zero Tolerance' Work?," NBER Working Papers 7383, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7383
    Note: CH HE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Frank J. Chaloupka & Adit Laixuthai, 1997. "Do Youths Substitute Alcohol and Marijuana? Some Econometric Evidence," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 23(3), pages 253-276, Summer.
    2. Saffer, Henry & Chaloupka, Frank, 1999. "The Demand for Illicit Drugs," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 37(3), pages 401-411, July.
    3. Henry Saffer & Frank J. Chaloupka, 1999. "Demographic Differentials in the Demand for Alcohol and Illicit Drugs," NBER Chapters,in: The Economic Analysis of Substance Use and Abuse: An Integration of Econometrics and Behavioral Economic Research, pages 187-212 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Pacula, Rosalie Liccardo, 1998. "Does increasing the beer tax reduce marijuana consumption?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(5), pages 557-585, October.
    5. Becker, Gary S & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(4), pages 675-700, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Abigail Wozniak, 2015. "Discrimination and the Effects of Drug Testing on Black Employment," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 97(3), pages 548-566, July.
    2. Waddell, G.R., 2012. "Adolescent drug use and the deterrent effect of school-imposed penalties," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(6), pages 961-969.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J28 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Safety; Job Satisfaction; Related Public Policy

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