Workplace substance abuse is on the rise, according to Quest Diagnostics Inc.
Traces of drugs –from marijuana to meth to prescription opiates—were found in 3.9% of the 9.1 million urine tests in 2014.
This is up from 3.7% in 2013. Although the numbers seem small (that’s still 354,900 positive tests!), they indicate a change and reversal of the declining drug use in the workplace. Before 2013, the number of positive drugs tests had dropped every year for 24 years.
This data parallels the rise in substance abuse in the general population. A survey, conducted in 2013 by the Department of Health and Human Services, found that 9.4% of Americans age 12 and up had used illicit drugs in the month before the survey was conducted. This is up from 9.2% in 2012 and 8.7% in 2011.
What is causing this rise in drug abuse and use?
Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institution for a Drug-Free Workplace, thinks that legalization of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use in 23 states and the District of Columbia could explain some of the increase. “We have a greater tolerance—and it’s an unfounded tolerance—for illicit drug use,” he said.
The most common drug found in employees’ samples is marijuana.
Other substances include amphetamines, oxycodones and benzodiazepines. Since legalization in Colorado and Washington in 2012, Jim Reidy, an attorney in the NH office of law firm Sheehan Phinney Bass and Green PA, has seen employers adopt or expand testing policies. Quest Diagnostics’ Dr. Barry Sample noted the test positives increased in 2013 in CO and WA but have leveled off and is at the same level as the national average.
Workers in federally mandated safety-sensitive roles (truck drivers, pilots, etc) are barred from using marijuana even if state law allows use. Among those workers, Quest found 1.7% of urine drug tests came back positive in 2013.
Marijuana isn’t the only drug showing up in positives.
Amphetamines, including prescription drugs doubled between 2008 and 2014. However, when tests show presence of a prescription drug, results are discarded if the individual can verify the doctor’s prescription. Dr. Sample says that 65-80% of positive tests are disregarded for this very reason.
Most employment-related drug tests are administered to job candidates, usually after a job has been offered. However, companies such as the International Paper Company in Memphis have adopted a drug testing policy for preventative measures since their work is in the manufacturing sector and submits employees to many safety-sensitive positions.
Wall Street Journal, 2015