Drug use rises again in the American workforce. Now what?

The percentage of working Americans testing positive for drugs climbed to its highest rate in 16 years in 2019, according to Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest drug-testing laboratories in the U.S.

The company recently released the latest findings from the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ (DTI), an annual report based on more than 9 million workforce drug test results.

Key findings include:

  • Positivity rates in urine drug tests increased to 4.5%, the highest level since 2003.
  • These rates are more than 28% higher than the 30-year low of 3.5% recorded between 2010 and 2012.
  • Marijuana positivity continues to climb, influenced by the growing number of states that allow recreational use.
  • Specific regions of the country experienced dramatic increases in positivity for cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.
  • Positive saliva test results for methamphetamine increased by 69% in the last five years.
  • Urine drug test positivity for marijuana rose 29% since 2015 in the general U.S. workforce.
  • Positivity for semi-synthetic opiates (hydrocodone and/or hydromorphone) dropped 26% and positivity for oxycodone declined nearly 21% during the past year in the general U.S. workforce.
  • Heroin positivity continued to decrease.
  • The retail industry has held the top spot for industry-specific positivity for five straight years.

Behind the numbers: What this means for employers

  1. Testing – and positive rates – will increase as people return to work. As many businesses and states re-open after COVID-19-related closures, employees are also coming back on the job. Lab-based drug testing and breath alcohol testing should be conducted to ensure a safe workplace for everyone returning to work, especially in safety-sensitive roles.

    If your business is bound by Department of Transportation (DOT) rules and regulations, you must conduct a new round of pre-employment drug and alcohol screens on any employees who return after a furlough or layoff lasting 90 or more days. Even if your business isn’t bound by DOT rules, re-testing employees after a prolonged absence is a good business practice to maintain a safe workplace.
  2. Drug and alcohol testing is more important than ever. No matter what the laws are in your state, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines are in place to ensure a safe workplace. Under OSHA regulations, employers must furnish “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees.

    Employer tolerance of an employee known to use alcohol on the job or a federally illegal drug, even for medical purposes, may create an impermissibly harmful environment under current federal law. For example, even if marijuana is legal in the state(s) where you operate, your company should continue testing for the drug.

    It’s to your benefit to know if your potential employees might be under the influence while they’re on the job. Companies have the right and responsibility to protect employees and customers from the negative effects of workplace drug and alcohol use.
  3. Testing shouldn’t stop at a pre-employment drug screen. Many employers conduct a proper pre-employment drug and alcohol screen, but never follow-up after an employee passes the screen and is hired. It’s important to conduct a variety of drug and alcohol tests throughout an employee’s tenure with your company.

    Best practices for testing existing employees vary depending on state laws regulating workplace drug testing, but most testing should include random tests and post-accident screens, in addition to any federally-mandated testing.
  4. Now’s the time for a clear drug and alcohol policy. Employers must establish a drug and alcohol policy that clearly communicates the details of your company’s drug-testing practices. In some states, a written policy is the first step to lawfully requesting that employees undergo drug screens.

    Failing to develop and implement a comprehensive drug and alcohol testing program can leave your company vulnerable to lost work time, lost productivity, an increase in employee theft, insurance premium increases due to an increase in accidents and worker’s compensation issues.

    A comprehensive drug and alcohol policy should include:
    • Clear standards for what kinds of drug and alcohol use is prohibited in the workplace,
    • Guidelines specifying when drug and alcohol tests will be conducted,
    • A description of any accommodations made for medical marijuana users under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and
    • Consequences if employees test positive for drugs or alcohol.

Partnering with an expert like Noble Diagnostics will help you stay current with ever-evolving legislation, regulations and workplace best practices so you can develop an efficient drug and alcohol testing program.

Contact Noble Diagnostics to discuss your needs today.


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