- The number of positive results from employment-related drug tests remained at the highest rate in a decade for the second year in a row, according to analysis by Quest Diagnostics. Based on 10 million drug-test results, Quest found that positive test results for marijuana use rose significantly in states where recreational use of certain drugs was legalized. Marijuana positivity generally has been on an upward trajectory for five years, according to Quest.
- The national positivity rate for the combined U.S. workforce remained steady at 4.2% between 2017 and 2016. But this was a notable increase over 2012's positivity rate of 3.5%, which represented a 30-year low, according to Quest's data.
- Figures from 2017 also show that positivity from cocaine and amphetamine use rose sharply in some areas of the country, while prescription opiate positivity rates declined by double digits nationwide. For the fifth year in a row, the positivity rate for cocaine increased for the general U.S. population across testing methods. Methamphetamine positivity rates surged in the Midwest and the South.
The issue of employee drug use continues to be a headache for employers. With an increase in some substance use across the U.S. and a patchwork of state laws impacting what is considered legal or illegal, this issue is unlikely to simplify in the near term. Employers have taken steps to curb opioid overuse and addiction in the workplace, in tandem with efforts by state and federal governments and the healthcare community to address the issue. While the opiate positivity rate decrease is welcome news, the rise in positivity for other drug categories is a troubling sign for the workplace.
"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," Barry Sample, PhD, senior director, science and technology, Quest Diagnostics said in a statement. "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."
Spikes in drug use complicate employers' ability to identify where to target resources for reversing the trend towards higher levels of addiction and reduce the number of employable candidates in a tight labor market. Opioid addiction reportedly is responsible for driving 20% of men out of the workplace.
The debate over whether marijuana use causes impairment leading to safety risks on the job and possibly higher healthcare costs should be a concern for employers. Courts have ruled in favor of insurers covering treatment for marijuana users' injuries, in some cases.
Some employers have felt compelled to relax drug-testing criteria and drug policies to make more applicants eligible for work. But given the rise in positive drug tests, and with it, possible impairment concerns, employers may want to think carefully about the drug policies they implement.