Drug Use Moves from the Back Alley to the Break Room

According to data collected by Quest Diagnostics, illicit drug use in American workers has reached the highest level in a decade. Illicit drugs range from marijuana to heroin and metamphetamine.

“Safety-sensitive” workers, such as truck drivers, pilots, ship captains, subway engineers, and other transportation workers had an increase in positive drug tests from 1.7% to 1.8%. Those in the general workforce rose from 4.7% to 4.8%. These results are based on more than 9.5 million urine tests. This is the third year in a row there has been an increase after years of decline. In 2014, a study found that 10% of Americans over age 12 had used an illicit drug in the last month, the highest amount since 2002.

In 1988, when 13.6% of workers tested positive for drugs, President Ronald Reagan signed the Drug-Free Workplace Act, mandating random drug checks for safety-sensitive workers. Testing also became more accepted in the general workplace, mainly as a pre-employment screening.

Positive drug tests hovered at their lowest of 3.5% until 2012. The increases come as when begin legalizing recreational marijuana. Marijuana appears to be “America’s favorite drug”, as nearly half of all positive tests are for weed.

The increase in hardcore drugs, like amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin, is troubling. The numbers are still relatively small, but heroin positives increased 146% between 2011 and 2015. Safety-sensitive worker positives increased by 84%. The increase in heroin use is partly due to the crackdown on prescription opiate abuse. On the flip side, the two most common prescription opiates, hydrocodone and hydromorphone, fell steeply in 2015. A worker’s positive result is discarded if they can produce a doctor’s prescription for a legal drug.

Weber, Lauren. “Greater Share of U.S. Workers Testing Positive for Illicit Drugs.” Business. The Wall Street Journal, 14 Sep 2016. Web. 15 Sep 2016.

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