Prescription drug use is paring the pool of candidates angling to become troopers during the Washington State Patrol’s unprecedented hiring campaign.
The agency is making a big push over the next five years to drum up candidates for 321 positions opening up as a significant number of employees retire or prepare to do so.
Garnering interest from potential candidates hasn’t been a problem. Nearly 2,000 hopefuls have submitted applications for a six-week arming class that prepares them to work in the field. The class will start later this month.
Recruiters, however, have noticed an uptick in otherwise promising candidates who have been denied because they have taken medication that was not prescribed for them.
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“This is an issue we’re facing and we’re seeing it pop up more and more,” said trooper Guy Gill, who is in charge of recruiting for Pierce and Thurston counties.
Most applicants are taking the drugs for legitimate injuries, often accepting a pill from a friend or family member without realizing it is against the law, officials said.
Taking someone else’s prescription drugs is a felony.
The State Patrol processed 1,868 applications as of late September and rejected 74 – or 4 percent – for failing to meet drug standards. Officials said they don’t keep track of how many recruits were barred because of prescription drugs versus other illegal drugs.
They do know prescription drugs are the latest setback to hiring.
“We’ve noticed a lot of people are being disqualified from abusing prescription drugs,” Sgt. Troy Tomaras said. “People don’t think about it. We want applicants to be aware this could affect their application.”
Other local law enforcement agencies said they haven’t seen an increase in prescription drug use convoluting the hiring process because they haven’t brought new people on board for about two years.
At the Tacoma Police Department, 1,649 people turned in applications to join the force last year. Of those, 165 were automatically turned away for drug issues, having a criminal background or driving issues. About 130 of those rejections were for not meeting drug standards, police spokesman Mark Fulghum said.
The State Patrol looks at the entire person rather than isolated incidents when conducting background checks, but illegal drug use can be hard to overcome when applying to be the one who upholds the law, officials said.
As part of the hiring process, a medical exam is done to determine any ailments or drugs being used. A polygraph exam, or lie detector test, is administered.
“If you roll your ankle playing pickup basketball, or get a migraine during finals week, go to your doctor not your roommate,” advised Capt. Jeff DeVere, commander of the State Patrol’s Human Resource Division.
This isn’t the first obstacle the agency has run across during its hiring campaign.
Months ago, the State Patrol struggled to find enough recruits who were in good enough shape to pass the physical fitness exam. It launched a public education campaign and said applicants began showing up able to meet the minimum standards for sit-ups, pushups and running.
The State Patrol usually hires and trains one class of 60 recruits annually, but the Legislature approved $5 million for an extra patrol academy class this year. The agency’s 101st class will begin in December.