When you've been in the drug testing industry for 12 years, you learn quite a few things.
For example, you always brace yourself for a hectic Monday, since employers have a tendency to issue random screenings right after the weekend.
And you always keep the urinalysis cups well stocked, considering you're likely to go through about 60 of them per day.
And you can forget about turning off your phone; you never know when there's going to be an emergency test required following a late night industrial or manufacturing accident.
These are all things Adairsville resident Tammy Livingood knows, having operated Livingood Lab Services LLC in Bartow County for the last dozen years. Right before the Great Recession struck, Livingood was working for Merz Consulting, Inc.; when it looked like that particular business was about to go under, Livingood jumped on the opportunity to move from employee to owner.
After agreeing to pay off some of the company's outstanding debts, she was effectively given the keys to the business, which she rebranded as Livingood Lab Services.
"Short-term was just keeping it going, making an easy transition from Merz to Livingood," she described her business strategy. "And long-term was to continue expanding nationwide, which we've done. We have over 500 employers nationwide and we contract with labs like LabCorp and Quest right down to urgent cares, chiropractors and staffing companies."
Expansion has continued ever since, with Livingood Lab Services, a recipient of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce's Small Business of the Year award in 2016, now working with clients as far away as California.
While Livingood said she assumes many roles operating the business, there's one in particular that stands out.
"Sometimes, I have to be a mom, drug-testing the 22-year-old and he's looking at me, saying 'Man, I've got kids and a wife, please, please,'" she said. "I turn into their mother. 'You've got to decide what's more important in life, drugs or your family, your job' ... I always feel like I need to say something to make them think about making better choices — not condemning them, but helping."
Name: Tammy Livingood
Current City: Adairsville
High School: Sprayberry High in Marietta
College: Bachelor of Science in Human Services, Kennesaw State University
Occupation: Owner, Livingood Lab Services LLC
The Daily Tribune News (DTN): To begin, can you give us a general overview of what you do at Livingood Lab Services?
Tammy Livingood (TL): I would say we are a third party administrator (TPA). We coordinate drug testing nationwide for companies and individuals. We do background checks as well and DNA paternity testing ... a lot of attorneys use us for that, and health departments recommend us in the surrounding areas as well. For example, I had a lady in Calhoun that needed a paternity test for her child, but the father is in Texas. So I contracted with a lab in Texas ... so that's how we can be nationwide with our drug testing, too.
DTN: Can you tell us about the scope of your drug screening services?
TL: We assist businesses in becoming Drug-Free Workplaces, to help them get that 7.5 percent off their worker's comp insurance. And we do it in the least expensive way for them. So we give them the policy, we give them the training materials and then we help them apply for it. It takes about five minutes, I walk them through it, and they do the pre-employment drug testing, reasonable suspicion and post-accidents ... we help keep them in compliance. I just had one of my clients call in Dallas, Georgia, and she wants me to go onsite Monday to test an individual that might or might not be positive.
DTN: What was the transition like going from an employee to the owner of your very own business?
TL: They were contracted with DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services) and they did a lot of counseling and assessments with their clients and they also started doing the drug testing and the paternity testing, and then they hired me to kind of beef it up and start Drug-Free Workplace [programs] with employers. Once I got that going pretty good, then they went out of business. I paid off some lab bills and they said "It's yours." So I took it over and grew it even more ... they kind of put me in charge of that side of the business, so I knew the insides and outs of it from the beginning. So it was more fun because I was more in control of every decision that was being made.
DTN: What were some of your previous professional experiences?
TL: I was a stay-at-home mom for years, but I never stayed at home. I was real involved with my children and their schools. I was the PTA president, room mother, the Girl Scouts leader and then I ran for school board, I was on the school board, Bartow County, for eight years — I've been on different boards of directors, Etowah Foundation, Pettit Environmental Preserve.
DTN: Was there any particular catalyst that got you into the drug screening industry?
TL: Just working for that company, consulting. I never thought I would do this. I've always been a go-getter, no matter what I've done, I'm always passionate about what I do. I'm a people-pleaser, I think, and that helps as a business person. If my contractors ever make mistakes, you can say things in a nice way but I always take full credit if that ever happens, which it rarely ever does.
DTN: Just how diverse are the types of employers you contract with?
TL: I work with every kind of business you can imagine would drug test their employees. Every single kind from plumbing companies to manufacturers to insurance companies ... California, Texas, I've got clients mostly in the northern states, the Northeast, but I do have some straggler companies, or sometimes if somebody has an employee, they'll call me and say "Hey, they might normally test here, but they have an employee they want to hire that's in California." Then I find the LabCorp that's nearest to them in that area, I give them that company's account number, they key it in at LabCorp and we get the test results and we report them. Most of my companies, I never even meet who I'm dealing with, I never meet the owners or their contacts to those companies.
DTN: What's the most memorable moment from your experiences on the job over the last 12 years?
TL: I guess the biggest thing that surprises me, and I don't know why I'm surprised, is the people who try to beat a test with fake urine. We're trained to catch it. I'm sure somebody has gotten by us maybe once or twice, but we're pretty good at catching people who try things. We have lots of little methods we use in order to catch folks. We do so many of them, you get really good at it.
DTN: So are those detox kits really as effective as they claim?
TL: It depends. Sometimes they are, sometimes they're not, because it just really depends on a person's body make-up. Everybody metabolizes a drug differently, so you can't really measure one from another, even though there are cutoff levels that the lab uses and the instant drug tests also have cutoff levels to accommodate for over-the-counter drugs and herbs, different things that people might take for different reasons.
DTN: We've all heard rumors about people eating Chinese food and getting false positives on drug tests. Is there any truth to that or is it just an urban legend?
TL: One of the biggest things I get is "Well, I had a poppy seed bagel," but you'd have to eat spoonfuls of poppy seeds to test positive. And something else people say a lot is "Well, I was in the car with a bunch of other people who were smoking pot, but I wasn't smoking it. That's why I'm testing positive." That doesn't really happen. They've done studies in Amsterdam, actually, where they have pumped a small room with smoke and the person would only test positive five minutes afterwards. After that, they were negative. So that doesn't really ring true.
DTN: Are there any particular industries that seem to have higher rates of positive tests than others?
TL: Your construction, hospitality industries tend to test higher than, say, a high-paying office job. Your higher-paid positions tend to be less positive than the lower paid ... there was a garbage company, but it wasn't in this county, and I went in and I tested the whole company. And 45 percent of them were positive. [The manager] freaked out and we had to come up with a plan for the marijuana people. Some of them, we went quickly, because if it's meth or cocaine, something like that, he let them go immediately. But he came up with a "second chance" plan, which Drug-Free Workplace allows. You can either be not tolerant at all or you can work out a plan that must be consistent with all your employees, no matter what you do.
DTN: Do you have any memorable paternity testing stories?
TL: My record was five fathers — the fifth one was finally the father. Four out of the five were in different jails ... the one that wasn't in jail was who I was hoping the father was, but he wasn't.
DTN: What's your favorite thing about the job, and what do you consider to be the most demanding part of the profession?
TL: My favorite thing is the fact that my boss lets me do whatever I want. And my least favorite is we're a 24/7 service, so sometimes I have to get up in the middle of the night to test somewhere for post-accident or an emergency situation ... it doesn't happen often but it does sometimes.
DTN: Over the last 12 years, have you noticed any trends regarding the types of drugs employees are testing positive for?
TL: Opioids are definitely on the rise. Really, drugs are not prejudiced. They hit every level of people on all spectrums ... it's just everywhere, America has a problem. And one of the main problems is the help is not really out there for people who can't afford it. Most people can't afford it, and that's my biggest concern in this industry, is that the help's just not out there unless you have a lot of money, because it takes a long time to rehab somebody.