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American Workers are Failing Drug Tests at the Highest Rate in 16 years

September 04 , 2020 12:22 pm
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By Graham Rapier, Business Insider

American workers subjected to drug tests at work tested positive at the highest rate in 16 years in 2019, according to one of the largest testing providers, despite growing public support for legalized marijuana.

Quest Diagnostics said Tuesday that workforce drug positivity rates hit 4.5% in 2019, the highest since 2003. The company says the coronavirus pandemic — which shows no signs of stopping soon in the US — likely accelerated some substance use.

"There is no question that before COVID-19, rates of workplace drug positivity were trending in the wrong direction," Barry Sample, Quest's senior director of science and technology, said in a press release. "Organizations will need to consider the impact of COVID-19 not only on workplace safety but also as a health concern for their employees for some time to come."


Marijuana remained the most commonly detected drug, Quest said, despite a growing number of states where its medical and recreational use has been legalized. That number's expected to grow even more in 2020.

"We've seen some employers take kind of a back-seat position on marijuana and be more willing to maybe change their drug-testing requirements," Michelle Bearden, chief risk officer for a Texas-based staffing firm, told The Wall Street Journal.

Still, some US government agencies and many "safety-sensitive" industries consider cannabis a dealbreaker for candidates. Quest's Sample says "changing attitudes toward its use could pose heightened risks especially in safety-sensitive positions and those states exploring legalization."

Opiates and heroin bucked overall trends, with positivity rates falling compared to recent years. Positivity rates for commonly abused painkillers like oxycodone or Oxymorphone have fallen nearly 55% since 2015, Quest said. Still, overdose deaths have soared in the US during the pandemic, as economic uncertainty climbs with massive unemployment.

Initial Centers for Disease Control data for 2020 reported by The New York Times shows a 13% uptick in overdose deaths this year compared to 2019, in what could be a bad sign for the country's attempts at a continued decline in overdose casualties.

Many activist groups have urged tighter regulations on workplace drug testing, which the ACLU says "is unfair, often inaccurate, and unproven as a means of stopping drug use."

"Employers have the right to expect workers not to be high or drunk on the job," the organization says. "But they shouldn't have the right to require employees to prove their innocence by taking a drug test."

Rapier, G. (2020). American workers are failing drug tests at the highest rate in 16 years. Business Insider, Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/americans-failed-drug-tests-highest-rate-16-years-marijuana-quest-2020-8

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