Former Bank Controller Flourishes In Drug-Testing Business
"You don't just wake up one morning and say, 'I think I want to open a drug-testing clinic,'" Kelly Dobbins joked recently at Mid-South Drug Testing, a business she opened in 2004.
But it's something that just kind of happens over time. At least, that's how it happened for her.
Dobbins, who has a master's degree in criminal justice, opened her first clinic in February 2004 at 3294 Poplar Ave. Seven months later, she opened another office in Paragould, Ark.
Drug testing is no longer just a procedure that potential employers require potential employees to go through before being hired. More and more parents are having their teenagers tested for drug use.
Can't put one over on mom
On a recent afternoon, one of Dobbins' clients left in tears because her son's drug test had come back positive. Though Dobbins says she's not a counselor, she didn't just give the results and send the mother on her way.
She sent the woman home with some test kits and information about where she could get help for her son.
While it's still relatively new, parental testing of teenagers for drug use certainly is not taboo. All area Catholic schools give children drug tests, Dobbins said.
And a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down in 2002 deemed it constitutional to have a massive expansion of drug testing in schools. In other words, not only were athletes going to be tested, but whole schools could be tested as well.
In 2003, 29 percent of all U.S. students in grades nine through 12 reported someone had offered, sold or given them an illegal drug on school property, according to Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2004, a report released by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics.
That same report showed 70 percent of high school seniors had reported using alcohol within the last year, and 34.3 percent said they'd used marijuana. And 52.4 percent reported using other illegal drugs such as sedatives, cocaine or steroids.
Dobbins also works with family lawyers in divorce cases in which one parent may believe or know the other parent is using drugs. But the biggest percentage of her business comes from employment pre-screening, she said.
In Memphis, more distribution sectors request her services, and in Paragould, more manufacturers do.
Dobbins was working at First Tennessee Bank as a quality systems controller when she received her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Memphis (then Memphis State University).
After she graduated, she started looking for a way to put it to work. When she heard about The Justice Network, Dobbins said she thought it was the perfect place for her.
On Union Avenue, The Justice Network Inc. administers probation and diversion programs, such as court-ordered random drug and alcohol testing and personal supervision. The company also offers alternative sentencing programs such as house arrest.
Once a court orders an offender confined to his or her home, the company uses electronic surveillance methods to monitor the person.
It was while she was with The Justice Network that Dobbins first started to gain knowledge about drug testing.
"I was trained on drug testing and that kind of became my niche," she said. "That was one of many things I did for the company."
While at The Justice Network, Dobbins served in a number of roles, from case officer to financial officer and eventually to serving as a CFO.
When she left the company in 2004 before starting her own business, it was because she felt she had just gotten all that she could out of her job.
"I don't know how you know things, but there comes a time when you feel like you've done everything you can do in that company and I felt like I had reached my top," Dobbins said. "I felt like I was going to go somewhere else, but I didn't know where."
Dobbins started her company in February 2004 and moved into her current office that May. In 2004, average income for her business was $5,279 a month with about 85 drug tests performed in an average month.
The next year, revenue more than doubled to $12,146 a month with more than 400 tests performed in a given month. And for 2006, revenue for the business was $24,469 monthly with about 733 drug tests performed a month.
Dobbins' goal is to get to the point where she's performing 1,000 drug tests a month.
A hair's breadth
The newest procedure for detecting drug use is carried out by taking hair samples from the back of a person's head.
Dobbins said people have found many ways to get around other tests, especially the urine analysis testing. The most common thing people try is using someone else's urine.
Saliva tests are more commonly used when an employee is suspected of having taken drugs very recently. Say, for instance, an employer thinks his employee took drugs on his lunch break, a saliva-based test is a good way to find out.
But with the hair analysis, there's no way to get around it. Taking 150 to 200 hairs from someone's head, it's possible to detect drug use in the past 90 days.
Clients seeking drug testing of their employees range from lawn care companies to car dealerships to restaurants. In Memphis, Dobbins said, there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to which companies choose to have drug testing done.
As for her reach expanding into Memphis City Schools, Dobbins said a number of obstacles exist.
First is the fact that teachers aren't tested for drugs. Second, parents generally bristle about their children being touched. It also could be a money issue, she said.
For now, Dobbins' target clients will be employers who might be interested in drug testing, but are unsure how to get started.
"To do drug testing as an employer, you need to have a drug-testing policy," Dobbins said.
In the past, Dobbins has helped some companies with that issue. "I'm not an employment lawyer," she said, "... but certainly we have some policies that we can share and ... they have a starting place."