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Almost one in 20 US workers test positive for drugs in 2019 – the highest rate in 16 years

Almost one in 20 US workers tested positive for drugs in 2019, marking the highest proportion of drug use among the nation’s workforce in 16 years, according to research. 

Stark new data from drug testing lab Quest Diagnostics reveals a worrying trend in the drug habits of the American workforce, with 4.5 percent of workers found to have drugs in their system last year.

The spike in positive results was driven by a surge in marijuana use, while there are some signs of progress in America’s battle against opioids with positive tests down for another year.  

Fears are mounting that the worst is yet to come as experts warn the coronavirus pandemic has piled on the stress for the nation’s workers and left recovering addicts isolated without their much-needed support networks.

Quest analyzed the results of nine million drug tests taken on behalf of employers in 2019 and found overall positivity rates increased in urine drug tests to the highest level since 2003.

The high rate of 4.5 percent was a staggering 28 percent higher than the 30-year low of 3.5 percent recorded between 2010 and 2012. 

Marijuana use appeared to be driving this surge, with the proportion of US workers testing positive for the drug increasing 11 percent in the last year alone to 3.1 percent of all workers tested. 

Much of the growth in workers testing positive for marijuana coincides with the legalization of the drug across America, rising by a staggering 29 percent between 2015 and 2019 from when it was legal in just four states to being legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia. 

Its legalization across several states has led a growing number of employers to scrap marijuana from its tests altogether, with the number of urine drug tests that include marijuana declining by 3 percent over the past five years. 

In states where recreational use of the drug is now legal, this declined by 6 percent.

However, Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics, warned increased social acceptance of the drug doesn’t mean its use couldn’t pose a danger to users in the workplace. 

‘Marijuana continues to be an enduring presence in the US workforce,’ said Dr. Sample. 

‘Changing attitudes toward its use could pose heightened risks especially in safety-sensitive positions and those states exploring legalization.’  

The data shows methamphetamine and cocaine use were also behind the surge in positive test results, with a growing proportion of US workers turning to the drugs over the last five years, particularly in the Midwest. 

There was some positive news however with the presence of opiates in worker urine tests falling by 19 percent in the last year and 49 percent since 2015. 

Heroin use also dropped by 33 percent from 2018 and halved since its peak in 2015 and 2016.

These figures point to marked progress in the nation’s war on opoiods. 

However, researchers warned that drug use could be ramping up even further in 2020 as Americans have been faced with the untimely deaths of loved ones, national unrest and widespread job insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Recovering addicts have also been hard-hit by a loss of access to support networks, after state lockdowns meant meetings were forced online or halted altogether and vulnerable people were left isolated for months. 

Concerning data reveals drug-related deaths have already skyrocketed around 13 percent in the first few months of 2020 compared to the same time last year.   

‘There is no question that before COVID-19, rates of workplace drug positivity were trending in the wrong direction, based on our Quest Diagnostics data. The enormous strain caused by COVID-19 may prove to be an accelerant on this disturbing trend,’ said Dr. Sample. 

‘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.’ 

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