Drug Use Among Nation’s Employees Still High


Positive drug tests for U.S. workers remains at a 10-year high according to data released today by Quest Diagnostics, the nation’s largest diagnostics and laboratory-testing provider.

The positive rate for the entire U.S. workforce remained unchanged at 4.2%, the same as 2016. The rate is still a dramatic increase from a thirty-year low reached in 2012 at 3.5%.

Data from 2017 showed prescription opioid positivity rates declined dramatically but that cocaine and amphetamine use rose dramatically. Marijuana positivity rates, in states that have legalized the drug, also rose sharply.

“Thirty years in, this year’s results again demonstrate the ever-evolving threat that substance abuse poses to workplace safety. With the prescription opiate crisis filling the headlines, the significant drop in opiate positivity is a promising sign,” said General Counsel Matt Nieman of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace.

“Yet, the ten-year high in positivity rates—spurred by nationwide surges in cocaine and methamphetamine positivity as well as double-digit marijuana spikes in states with newly implemented recreational laws—serves as a stark warning that efforts to prevent substance abuse in the workplace are as important today as ever.”

The positivity rate for cocaine increased for the fifth consecutive year with several states seeing double-digit increases. Rates in Nebraska and Idaho saw the largest increases, 91% and 88% respectively, over 2016 rates.

Marijuana positivity also continued its rising trend, with states that have recently passed laws allowing for recreational use of the drug leading the way. Nevada (43%), Massachusetts (14%) and California (11%) saw the biggest increases.

Many employers also seem to be eliminating marijuana from their list of zero-tolerance positive-rating drugs, hiring employees and keeping on ones who have tested positive for the substance.

A positive trend revealed in the data is that opiate-positivity rates declined 17% from 2016, the result of efforts by policymakers, the medical community, as well as employers, to combat their use and lessen their availability.

The numbers serve as a reminder however that drug-free workplaces still has a long way to go to be achieved.

“It’s unfortunate that we mark 30 years of the Drug-Free Workplace Act with clear evidence that drugs continue to invade the country’s workplaces. Not only have declines appeared to have bottomed out, but also in some drug classes and areas of the country drug positivity rates are increasing,” said Barry Sample, PhD, senior director, science and technology, Quest Diagnostics.

“These changing patterns and geographical variations may challenge the ability of employers to anticipate the ‘drug of choice’ for their workforce or where to best focus their drug prevention efforts to ensure a safe and healthy work environment,” he added.

Photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Gardner via U.S. Air Force

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