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More Workers Testing Positive for Drugs in the Workplace

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Recent data from Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest workplace-testing labs in the country, indicates that more U.S. workers are testing positive for illicit drugs than at any time in the last 12 years. The data shows that the number of workers testing positive for marijuana rose by 4% in 2016 over 2015. Positive results for other drugs have also risen.

In 2016, 4.2% of the 8.9 million urine drug tests that Quest conducted on behalf of employers came back positive. It is the highest rate since 2004, when 4.5% of tests showed evidence of potentially illicit drug use. States that allow recreational marijuana are particularly seeing a rise in the number of workers testing positive: in Colorado there was an increase of 11% and in Washington State, by 9%. The rates of increase in these states, the first to legalize the use of recreational marijuana, were more than double the increase nationwide in 2016.

“This year’s findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations," said Barry Sample, PhD, senior director, science and technology at Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. "Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should be alert to the potential for drug use among their workforce."

Cocaine positives are also rising, which is another concern for employers, particularly in drug tests conducted after workplace accidents. Of U.S. workers tested by Quest, traces of cocaine were found in 0.28% of tests. The share of positives from post-accident states was more than twice as high as the rate from pre-employment assessments.

“While a test can’t tell you whether or not the use of cocaine is what caused that incident, it certainly raises the level of concern that cocaine may have had some impact,” said Sample.

Quest also found amphetamine positives—which include Adderall, commonly prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder—rose for all workers to 1.1% of urine tests, up from 0.97% in 2015. Some positive results are later discarded if a worker produces a doctor’s prescription for a legal drug. Methamphetamine positives continue to climb in the general workforce, rising 64% between 2012 and 2016, amounting to an overall positivity rate of 0.18% for the general workforce last year.

On the positive side, prescription opioids such as oxycodone appear to be on the decline. Additionally, in 2016, heroin positives leveled off, which represents a reversal of a previous pattern.

Employers should take the measures needed to tackle the issue of employee drug use as it affects the workplace. Drug abuse in the workplace affects worker’s poor performance, diminishes productivity and increases the potential for on-the job injuries and accidents that result in Workers’ Compensation claims. Having a drug and education program in place serves to increase overall morale, decrease workplace accidents, increase productivity, and reduce employee turnover, among many other benefits.

RPS provides Workers’ Compensation solutions to a broad spectrum of employers and industry sectors. We can assist you in securing a program for your clients.

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