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Drug abuse is up. Positive drug test results are up. The number of companies testing for marijuana is down.
We know this from three major annual reports on substance abuse and drug testing:
According to the NSDUH released on October 26, 2021, substance abuse is on the rise.i Key findings include:
Drug Testing Index
The overall increase in substance abuse is no respecter of boundaries. The Quest Drug Testing Index shows a direct impact on the workplace. The rate of positive drug test results among Americas workforce reached its highest rate last year since 2001 and was up more than 30% in the combined US workforce from an all-time low in 2010-2012.iii
The DTI also stated:
The overall positivity rate in the combined US workforce, based on nearly 9 million urine drug tests collected between January and December 2021, was up in 2021 to 4.6% compared to 4.4% in 2020 and up 31.4% from the all-time low of 3.5% just 10 years ago (2010-2012).iv
In the DOT-mandated testing area, the DTI reported:
After 5 years of steady declines in several drug categories, positivity rates based on urine drug tests for the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce increased in 2021. Of note, marijuana increased 8.9% (0.79% in 2020 to 0.86% in 2021), amphetamines increased 7.8% (0.64% in 2020 to 0.69% in 2021) and cocaine increased 5.0% (0.20% in 2020 to 0.21% in 2021).v
Regarding marijuana specifically among non-DOT tests, the DTI noted:
Positivity rates for marijuana in the general US workforce based on more than 6 million urine tests continued an upward climb, increasing 8.3% (3.6% in 2020 versus 3.9% in 2021), the highest positivity rate ever reported in the DTI. Over 5 years, positivity for marijuana in the general US workforce increased 50% (2.6% in 2017 versus 3.9% in 2021).vi
Bottom Line: Marijuana may not be the only drug for which workers are testing positive, but it is number one.
Current Consulting Groups Survey
All of this brings us to the results of the Current Consulting Groups 24th Annual Drug Testing Industry Survey.vii The legalization of marijuana continues to have a negative impact on employers drug testing policies. When drug testing providers were asked: Have you had clients drop marijuana from their drug test panel in the last year?:
Industry providers indicated that the top reasons why employers drop marijuana from their drug test panel include:
What does all of this mean for employers? Here are three key take-aways:
First, with substance abuse trends heading in the wrong direction, it would be a bad time to discontinue drug testing all together. For those employers considering dropping marijuana from their drug test panel, it would be wise to at least include it when conducting reasonable suspicion and post-accident tests.
Second, Current Consulting Groups survey also indicated a significant shift toward oral fluid drug testing. When survey participants were asked: In the future, what drug testing specimen will be used the most?, only 50% said urine while 44.8% indicated it will be oral fluid. Just a few short years ago urine testing wouldve dominated this question.
The advantages of oral fluid testing, including the ability to detect recent drug use and a window of detection that covers the entire 3- to 10-hour cannabis window of impairment, make it possible for employers to continue testing for marijuana and address workplace safety concerns while simultaneously not prying into the private lives of their employees.
Third, while 56% of participants in Current Consultings survey indicated they believe drug testing will increase over the next five years, nearly 40% said they believe drug testing could someday be replaced, at least partially, by some other type of screening method. Of that number, 6.3% expect a non-drug- related impairment or fitness-for-duty testing system to replace drug testing all together.
In the final analysis for employers, it comes down to workplace safety and protecting the bottom line. For those reasons, drug testing and, perhaps, some screening method capable of identifying on-the-job impairment, regardless of the cause of the impairment, are here to stay.
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i National Survey on Drug Use and Health. SAMHSA. October 2021. file:///C:/Users/bcurr/AppData/Local/Temp/Temp1_2020NSDUHDetTabs01112022%20(1).zip/NSDUHDetTabs1- 1to1-5pe2020.pdf
ii Decreasing perceived risk associated with regular cannabis use among older adults in the United States from 2015 to 2019. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. May 2021. https://agsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.17213
iii 2022 Annual Report and Industry Insights. Drug Testing IndexTM and Industry Insights. A comprehensive analysis of workforce drug use. Quest Diagnostics. 2022. trendshttps://filecache.mediaroom.com/mr5mr_questdiagnostics/203415/quest_drug_testing_index_2022.pdf
vii Current Consulting Groups 24th Annual Drug Testing Industry Survey. May 2022.