USA: Positive Workplace Drug Tests at 13-Year High

Illegal drugs continue to invade US workplaces, with positive tests for cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana all on the rise.

Quest Diagnostics’ latest analysis of drug tests showed that, although fewer American workers tested positive for prescription painkillers, there were more positive tests for illegal substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. The results were presented at the Federal Transit Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Program National Conference in Florida.

Quest Diagnostics analysed over 10 million urine test results, provided by employers. Quest reported that 4.2 percent of the total workforce (general workers and those who undergo federally mandated testing) had a positive test in 2017, reflecting the previous year’s rate. This is the highest percentage since 2004, when the figure stood at 4.5 percent.

Many states in the Midwest, Northeast and South have seen steep rises in the number of employees and applicants using dangerous drugs like cocaine. Increases have been noticeable in states including Texas and North Carolina. Higher numbers of safety-sensitive workers, such as nuclear power plant workers and pilots, tested positive for cocaine than in the previous year, for the third year in a row.

Between 2007 and 2017, the national rate of workers testing positive for methamphetamine rose by 0.6 percent. Further to this, positive test results for meth increased from 9 percent to 25 percent in 2017, in parts of the Midwest, East and South.

Quest Diagnostics senior director of science and technology, Barry Sample, said it was unfortunate for the country to 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. 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.”

Nevada and Massachusetts, two states that legalised the recreational use of marijuana in 2016, had the largest increases in positive tests for Marijuana. Nevada experienced a 43 percent increase, while Massachusetts had a 14 percent increase. At this point, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalised the recreational use of marijuana, and the national rate of positive marijuana tests was 2 percent in 2017.

Finally, it is interesting to note that positive urine tests for opiates were found to have decreased by 17 percent. Opioid prescriptions have declined year on year, from 2013 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The reduction in the number of American employees testing positive for opiates perhaps demonstrates that attempts to limit unnecessary painkiller prescriptions have been effective.


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