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Illicit drug use among U.S. workforce most prevalent in 12 years: study

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Photo: HHakim/iStockphoto

Orlando, FL – In 2016, American workers tested positive for illicit drugs at the highest rate in 12 years, according to an annual study conducted by lab services provider Quest Diagnostics.

Researchers reviewed more than 10 million samples for Quest's Drug Testing Index. Of those, 4.2 percent came up positive – the most since 4.5 percent in 2004 and an increase from 4.0 percent in 2015.

“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,” Dr. Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, said in a May 16 press release. “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.”

Urine samples showing evidence of cocaine increased by 12 percent from 2015 (to 0.28 percent from 0.25 percent) in the overall workforce – the fourth rise in as many years – and 7.7 percent among safety-sensitive workers. That group includes pilots, nuclear power plant workers, and truck and bus drivers – who must undergo federally mandated, routine urine testing.

Positive tests for marijuana use among safety-sensitive workers increased by 9.9 percent in 2016, the largest jump in five years, and went up in the general workforce in three other forms of testing.

Oral fluid samples showed evidence of marijuana use at a rate of 8.9 percent after coming in at 7.5 percent in 2015. Positive tests also increased slightly for urine samples (to 2.5 percent from 2.4 percent) and hair samples (to 7.3 percent from 7.0 percent) in 2016.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Amphetamines and methamphetamines showed up in urine tests about 8 percent more often in 2016 than the previous year in both the general and safety-sensitive workforce. Researchers pointed to prescriptions drugs such as Adderall as one reason for the steady increase in positive tests for the drug since 2012.

Heroin use leveled off in the general workforce in 2016 after four straight years of increases and decreased by a small amount in the safety-sensitive population. Positive tests for prescription opiates, meanwhile, decreased for the fourth straight year.

The results of the study were presented at the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association’s annual conference in Orlando, FL.

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