Last updated: January 18, 2021
Positive drug tests are on the rise. If you doubt that drugs in the workplace remain a problem nationwide, you’re about to get an eye-opener.
Quest Diagnostics released its annual report on August 25th. It shows that positive drug tests in the combined United States workforce climbed to its highest level since 2003. The numbers are gathered from the millions of urine drug tests submitted for analysis during the year. Neither hair nor saliva samples were used in the findings.
As always, the report provides an accurate summary of drug use in various regions of the country as well as the nation as a whole.
Breaking it down
This year’s report revealed surges in cocaine and methamphetamine positivity with double-digit increases in the Midwest—specifically in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Wisconsin topped that list nearly doubling the number of positive methamphetamine results found there.
Cocaine use is up in the Midwest by 40% over the last five years. The increase of 53% in the West over the same period is primarily attributed to increasing positivity in Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon. “We have seen an increase in cocaine positives in relation to previous years and in relation to other drug positives.” said Richard Mattucci, President at USA Mobile Drug Testing of Denver South. He continued, “Unfortunately, we still see a steady positive rating for marijuana and meth in our testing as well.”
There’s good news to share in regard to opiate use as the numbers continue to decline in all categories.
- Positivity in the general U.S. workforce has declined 49% over the past five years
- Hydrocodone and hydromorphone positivity dropped 26% in the last year
- Oxycodone and oxymorphone positivity declined 21% during 2019
It appears that after two decades, the opioid epidemic is getting under control at last.
Marijuana’s another story
No matter which workforce category you fall under—the general U.S. workforce or the safety-sensitive workforce—marijuana continues to be the most commonly detected drug in all types of employee test samples—urine, hair, and saliva. The number of employees testing positive increased by 11% over last year.
With marijuana legalization continuing to spread across the country, some employers are choosing to quietly remove it from the employee drug test. Others, though, choose to leave their policies in place taking an “it’s better than nothing” attitude.
While that’s certainly true, employers find themselves between a rock and a hard place where legalization is concerned. Currently, drug tests identify the metabolites left behind after the drug passes through the metabolization process.
Marijuana metabolites remain in the body long after someone has used the drug. The length of time ranges from a few days for someone who uses it occasionally to a month or longer for heavy users.
Many employees feel they risk being penalized unfairly when legal use after hours can cost them their jobs.
Help on the horizon
There is some good news out there for employers though—especially those who operate in states where marijuana use is legal. We know of two companies set to release a marijuana breathalyzer soon.
There’s no doubt that a marijuana breathalyzer is going to shed new light on the subject of marijuana testing in the workplace. “With the introduction of a reliable marijuana breathalyzer we will see an initial increase of positives reporting “on duty” employees that hopefully will fall off as the breathalyzer use increases,” says Richard Matteucci, President at USA Mobile Drug Testing of Denver South.
Employers have every right to continue testing for marijuana. It affects a person’s motor skills and cognitive abilities. That puts them—and anyone nearby—at greater risk of being involved in an accident.
Having the ability to drug test in “real-time” gives employers the option of treating marijuana legalization in the same way they treat alcohol.
A peek at 2020s stats
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released its first official FMCSA Clearinghouse report in June. Marijuana and cocaine positivity top the list of substance abuse violations obtained by regulated drivers.
The number of reported drug violations between January 1st and June 30th topped out at 20,670. Of that number, 10,388 of them showed positive results for marijuana. Cocaine and methamphetamine filled the second and third place slots with 3,192 and 2,184 positive results respectively.
They added nearly 5,000 reported violations during the month of July.
Since the coronavirus outbreak started, every state is reporting an increase in deaths due to overdose. That tells us that the stress and uncertainty linked to job loss, health concerns, lockdowns, and all the rest are catalysts for some to turn to drugs.
A different kind of lockdown
The FMCSA Clearinghouse makes it impossible for drivers to simply fail to report a violation and start fresh with a new commercial driver’s license (CDL) in a new state. Violations remain on file until the driver completes the return to duty process—negative drug test result included.
Vigilance can save lives—both that of the truck driver and anyone who is sharing the road with them.
Likewise, employers of the general workforce must remain vigilant. Some are waiving the company drug test—like the NBA for instance—during the outbreak. They should rethink that.
Employees who used drugs during the lockdown to cope with the “corona chaos,” may not put them down when it’s time to go back to work. Drug testing can play a part in nipping addiction in the bud because the problem won’t disappear on its own. Moreover, it will only continue to grow more serious over time.
Empower your employees to fight the use of drugs in the workplace. Make sure employees realize the importance of reporting drug use on the job. Schedule a class to refresh your management teams and employees alike on the signs and symptoms of drug impairment.
Education is our best defense against drug use in the workforce. It allows employees to make informed decisions. It lets them know that you care about their well-being too. And, knowing they work for an employer who cares about them can be all someone needs to reach out for help.
Imagine using a “real-time” test for marijuana. The number of employees who test positive for drugs may drop dramatically over the next few years.
We must continue to educate employees on the dangers and long-term effects of drug use. We want the overall number on Quest Diagnostics’ future reports to decrease each year.