Workplace Drug Use

Amphetamines, Opiates Latest Drugs of Choice Among Workers

By: | February 3, 2014

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

The rate of drug use among American workers has declined by 74 percent since the Drug-Free Workplace Act was passed 25 years ago. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the positive rates for certain drugs, including opiates, have increased substantially.

The figures come from the latest annual Drug Testing Index from Quest Diagnostics. The analysis examined more than 125 million urine drug tests performed by the company’s forensic toxicology labs in the U.S. on private as well as government employers.

“Positivity rates for prescription opiates, which include the drugs hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone and oxymorphone, have … increased steadily over the last decade — more than doubling for hydrocodone and hydromorphone and up 71 percent for oxycodone — reflective of national prescribing trends,” according to the DTI.

Positivity rates for amphetamines have nearly tripled and in 2012 were “at the highest level since 1997,” according to the report. “The positivity rate for amphetamine itself, including prescription medications such as Adderall, has more than doubled in the last 10 years.”

Overall, however, the positivity rate among U.S. workers declined to 3.5 percent in 2012, from 13.6 percent in 1988, the report says.

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The DTI “provides the best evidence to date that the Drug-Free Workplace Act and the public and private initiatives it helped to spur have led to steep declines in drug use among much of the American workforce,” said Laura Shelton, executive director of the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association. “While more needs to be done to reduce illicit drug use by workers, we should take heart from the tremendous progress employers have made to create safer workplaces for millions of Americans.”

The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 aimed to promote greater awareness of the workplace drug use and the implementation of workplace drug education and monitoring programs, including drug testing, by federal agencies and private employers. It requires federal contractors and all federal grantees to agree to provide drug-free workplaces as a precondition of receiving a contract or grant from a federal agency. Many private employers have created policies consistent with the federal requirements in order to minimize the hazards of drug use in the workplace.

“While this ‘Silver Anniversary’ Drug Testing Index underscores the nation’s progress in reducing the prevalence of drug use in our country’s work environments, there is a danger in becoming complacent in response to this good news,” said Dr. Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, a business of Quest Diagnostics. “Our data shows that an increasing number of workers are testing positive for certain prescription drugs, such as opiates and stimulants, reflecting the increased use, and potentially abuse, of prescription medications in the U.S. We also know from other research that the steep declines in our data’s overall drug positivity rates would likely not be observed in workplaces that do not have workplace drug testing programs.”

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]