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Workforce Drug Positivity Rates Hit 14-Year High (If You Count Cannabis)

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Workforce Drug Positivity Rates Hit 14-Year High (If You Count Cannabis)

If you haven’t reviewed your organization’s drug policy recently, now is probably a good time. Quest Diagnostics just released its 2019 Drug Testing Index, and workforce positivity rates are the highest they’ve been in 14 years—if you count cannabis, that is. (More on that later.)

For the past 3 decades, the DTI has provided insight into national workplace drug positivity trends by analyzing data from millions of drug tests. The survey began in 1988, following the passage of the Drug-Free Workplace Act. Back then, the positivity rate among American workers was 13.6%.

These days, the number is thankfully lower—but not by much. The DTI found 9% post-accident positivity in 2018. That’s nearly 1 in 10 workers testing positive for drugs. And if the current pattern continues, we could be back at 1988 levels before long. EHS Today reports:

“Post-accident positivity in the general U.S. workforce climbed 9% year-over-year (7.7% in 2017 versus 8.4% in 2018), and 29% over five years. The post-accident positivity rate has risen annually since 2011 in the general U.S. workforce and since 2010 in the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce.”

To read more about the 2018 DTI results, click here. For an interactive map showing urine drug test positivity by zip code, click here.

What’s causing the numbers to rise? It isn’t opiates—use of those substances has declined by 37% since their peak in 2015—nor is it cocaine, which appeared to be on the rise last year. The issue is related to the availability of cannabis. Tellingly, cannabis positivity rose by 6.2% nationally in urine drug tests, and by double digits in Colorado and Washington, where the drug has been legalized for recreational use. Of course, as debates surrounding cannabis use, legalization, and classification rage on, these results may mean different things for different employers in different jurisdictions. Nevada, for instance, just passed a law protecting cannabis consumers from employment discrimination. Note that the bill does not cover employees in safety-sensitive roles.

Meanwhile, many employers continue to maintain zero-tolerance and safety-sensitive workplaces, where any number of employees testing positive would be unacceptable. Others are rethinking their policies, attempting to balance shifting state-level regulations and societal attitudes with their obligations under federal law. Still others are conducting drug tests selectively, for specific roles in specific states.

In short, we don’t live in 1988. Maybe it’s a mistake to treat cannabis the same way as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Or maybe it’s a mistake to lump different drugs together in general. Consider the fact that both Denver, CO and Oakland, CA have decriminalized psilocybin, AKA magic mushrooms, perhaps foreshadowing an imminent wave of new laws around psychedelic substances.

These are complicated times. US drug policy appears to be in a transitional period, and what we’re transitioning to is anyone’s guess. We hate to say it, but for workplace safety professionals in 2019, clear answers on drug testing—again, outside of safety-sensitive jobs—are hard to come by. As one employer in California recently told The LA Times, “It’s a mess.”

About The Author

Toby Graham

Toby manages the marketing communications team here at KPA. She's on a quest to help people tell clear, fun stories that their audience can relate to. She's a HUGE sugar junkie...and usually starts wandering the halls looking for cookies around 3pm daily.

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