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Westmoreland commissioners announce drug-testing policy for prospective employees

| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

All prospective Westmoreland County workers must pass a drug test before they are put on the payroll, the commissioners said on Monday.

Commissioners Charles Anderson, Tyler Courtney and Ted Kopas held a joint news conference to announce that a formal drug testing policy will be created and possibly implemented as early as this week.

Anderson said the policy shift is in response to surging drug overdoses in the county and last week's arrest of a part-time deputy sheriff for allegedly using heroin in Pittsburgh.

“We as county commissioners need to do something to try to work to move these numbers down,” Anderson said.

The county has no policy in place to test prospective employees. It employs about 2,000 workers.

The commissioners said all future workers seeking nonunion positions will immediately be required to pass a drug test.

Prospective sheriff's department staffers also will be required to take and pass drug tests, according to the commissioners.

“Our plan is to start mandatory pre-screening for the sheriff's department. We have to hold law enforcement to a higher standard,” Kopas said.

Sheriff Jonathan Held last week proposed drug testing for his staff. On Monday he said he backed the commissioners' policy but called it a belated effort to control the drug problem.

“This is a policy their human resources department should have had. I'm surprised the county didn't do this before,” Held said.

Held immediately suspended part-time deputy Erika Ditch on April 4, a day after she was arrested in the parking lot outside the East Liberty Target store, where she allegedly used heroin.

Ditch, 24, resigned from her job hours after she was released from jail.

Ditch, like all other county workers, was not drug-tested when she was hired.

The county performs random drug tests for probation officers, jail guards and park police officers. Negotiations are ongoing with the union that represents sheriff deputies to test those on the force.

Mike Stoltenberg, attorney for the Westmoreland County Court Related Employees, the union that represents sheriff deputies, said drug testing for current staffers must be covered in ongoing labor negotiations.

“If it's just part of the hiring process, it becomes less objectionable. It's not a big issue on our part,” Stoltenberg said.

Commissioners said drug screening should be required for all future county workers.

“It's common sense. We need to move in the right direction and make it part of the protocol for working at the county,” Courtney said.

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