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Drug labs offer ultimate in high-stakes testing


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Dave Claflin is CEO of Fastest Labs, which touts its speed in reporting results.

When it comes to drug testing, Dave Claflin has seen and heard it all. “I could write a book on it,” says the CEO of Fastest Labs. “We have people that try to trick us every single day. And the funniest thing is when they get caught they just say, ‘OK, you got me.’”

But the business itself is deadly serious, more so than ever as the opioid epidemic rampages across the country. Claflin says Fastest Labs now tests for 12 types of drugs, up from 10 just recently, to include two more types of opiates. Years ago a typical test was for five drugs.

A new study by Quest Diagnostics reports the number of employees failing drug tests is at its highest rate in more than a decade. Quest says 4.2 percent of the U.S. workforce tested positive for illicit drugs in 2016, the highest rate since 2004. The number of workers who tested positive for marijuana alone rose by 4 percent, an increase that aligns with more liberal marijuana state laws, according to Quest.

Major changes ahead

Widespread coverage of the topic leads to more awareness among franchise owners, notes Felix Mirando, CEO and founder of ARCpoint Labs, a pioneer in drug-testing franchises that awarded its first franchise in 2006.

“You always have an interest from people who know someone who’s been affected by substance abuse,” Mirando says about prospective owners. “We’ve got owners who have lost children to it, so it’s near and dear to their heart. A lot of what we do is social responsibility, and that’s different from being in the restaurant business.

There’s a sense of what you’re doing for society.”

ARCpoint Labs has more than 100 units open, with an additional 100 territories sold, he says. Cost to open a unit ranges from $149,300 to $249,250.

Mirando points out major changes ahead in the business, chief among them at the federal level. Mandated testing through the Department of Transportation does not currently include some of the prescription medications whose use is on the rise. “They’re going to be adopting some additional panels that will include these prescription medications,” he says. “It’s gotten to the point it’s not just addicts it’s affecting. It’s pretty rampant in the workplace as well.”

The abuse goes beyond opioids, he says. “There are synthetic drugs out there that mirror cocaine, that mirror marijuana. A lot of these get developed and they’re being laced with other type drugs to where they become very deadly.”

Touting speed or wellness

Fastest Labs started selling franchises in 2010, and has 22 units in eight states. It costs about $75,000 to $89,000 to get a location up and running.

Claflin and his wife, LeDona, opened the first clinic in 2008, after they had operated a Merry Maids franchise, grew it and sold it after 13 years. “I started out with a full head of hair and low blood pressure, and after 13 years I was bald” and on medication, he says. “So it was time to move on.”

They then bought another franchise, Worldwide Express, an overnight shipping business, and on a sales call to Beaumont, Texas, ran into a man who had a drug-testing lab. “We realized, we already know what it’s like to be franchisees in two systems. We know how to be treated as franchisees, so the next step is to be the franchisor.”

Fastest Labs’ niche is speed. Whereas a medical clinic or Quest, the largest lab chain in the U.S., might take 45 minutes to an hour to run a test, and perhaps up to three days to get results, Claflin says, it takes Fastest Labs a few minutes because of a private label drug-testing kit. Tests cost $40 to $49.

ARCpoint is going in another direction, dabbling in clinical wellness and starting to offer “pharmagenetics” testing, in which an oral fluid swab can be sent to a lab to “see what you’re prone to,” says Mirando, adding he sees the field as the future of testing. “I had a pharmagenetics test done myself. It looks at about 700 to 800 drugs, and I got red-flagged” on one particular type of drug. “I took it to my doctor and he switched me to Lipitor.”

Competitors in the franchised drug-testing business also include Any Lab Test Now, which has more than 150 units and which Mirando says vies with ARCpoint for first or second place in the franchise space. USA Mobile Drug Testing is another player, sending certified compliance specialists directly to a company’s employees. Investment ranges from $62,000 to $96,000.

A younger entrant is Conspire, which includes this statement on its website: “Substance abusers are five times more likely to file a workers compensation claim.”

Conspire lists four locations.

Claflin at Fastest Labs calls drug-testing a $1.5-billion industry in the United States, with federal requirements to get a drug screen if you are the driver of a plane, a train or a truck. President Ronald Reagan, in the 1980s, encouraged corporations to make workplaces safer and to help people with drug addiction and abuse, Claflin says.

‘Unfair and unnecessary’

Of course, not everyone is a fan of workplace drug testing. The National Workrights Institute has published a white paper that begins with the words of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia in his dissenting opinion in National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab, in 1989.

“The impairment of individual liberties cannot be the means of making a point …symbolism, even symbolism for so worthy a cause as the abolition of unlawful drugs, cannot validate an otherwise unreasonable search.” The paper continues: “Indiscriminate drug testing is both unfair and unnecessary.”

But the drug-testing franchisors believe the trend is toward more, not less, testing. Claflin, founder of Fastest Labs, points out the private side of the business as well, in which a person “may have a teenager, a college kid or the mom or the dad in a child custody case or divorce Where we get thrown into this mix—people need to know if this mother is taking drugs for child custody,” he says, adding, “you need to know if your teenager or college kid is on drugs.”

If it sounds grim to outsiders, Claflin disagrees. “I don’t get depressed about it. When I do see a mom bring her son in, that’s sad, but I’m looking at—we can send them to a substance abuse program … People can get help.”  

Unlike the stories about customers trying to cheat on their drug tests, he points out, those anecdotes are what keep people like him going.

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