Drug use among U.S. workers is down 74% over 25 years since passage of the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, although the rate of positive test results for certain drugs, including amphetamine and opiates, continues to climb, according to a landmark analysis of workplace drug test results by Quest Diagnostics.
The Drug Testing Index (DTI) analysis examined more than 125 million urine drug tests performed by Quest Diagnostics forensic toxicology laboratories across the United States as a service for government and private employers between 1988 and 2012.
The analysis examined the annual positivity rate for employees in positions subject to certain federal safety regulations, such as truck drivers, train operators, airline and nuclear power plant workers (federally mandated safety-sensitive workers); workers primarily from private companies (U.S. general workforce); and the results of both groups together (combined U.S. workforce).
Key findings from the analysis:
- The positivity rate for the combined U.S. workforce declined 74%, from 13.6% in 1988 to 3.5% in 2012.
- The positivity rate for the federally-mandated safety sensitive workforce declined by 38%, from 2.6% in 1992 to 1.6% in 2012.
- The positivity rate for the U.S. general workforce declined by 60%, from 10.3% in 1992 to 4.1% in 2012.
Some reports found that the majority of Americans misused their prescription medications, including opioids and amphetamine medications.
"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."
Some industries such as the restaurant industry have adopted an attitude that drug use in their industry is something they cannot control. The fact remains that drugs in the workforce contribute to industrial and other accidents, not to mention employer costs and liability.
Drug testing is allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the ADA does not consider drug abuse a disability—but the law does not regulate or prohibit testing. Instead of a comprehensive regulatory system, federal law provides for specific agencies to adopt drug testing regulations for employers under their jurisdiction.
A comprehensive drug-free workplace program may be the best means of preventing, detecting, and dealing with substance abusers.
Such a program generally includes the following five elements:
- A written policy that is supported by top management, understood by all employees, consistently enforced, and perfectly clear about what is expected of employees and the consequences of policy violations.
- A substance abuse prevention program with an employee drug education component that focuses not only on the dangers of drug and alcohol use, but also on the availability of counseling and treatment.
- Training of managers, front-line supervisors, human resource personnel, medical staff, and others in identifying and dealing with substance abusers.
- An appropriate drug and alcohol testing component, designed to prevent the hiring of workers who use illegal drugs and to provide early identification and referral to treatment for employees with drug or alcohol problems.
- An employee assistance program (EAP).
The legal challenges for employers are accommodating Medical Marijuana at work so, before strictly enforcing a "zero-tolerance" drug-free policy, employers should consider the following:
- Become familiar with your own State's requirements and limitations regarding medical marijuana use. Some laws specifically state that no accommodation is necessary for the use of marijuana in any place of employment.
- Review current policies related to drugs and make sure that they address the issue of medical marijuana usage.
- If the job is safety-sensitive or subject to regulations prohibiting on-the-job or off-work drug use, an employer may enforce its zero-tolerance drug-free workplace policy, regardless of state laws.
- Consider whether an employee can be accommodated in a way other than allowing medical marijuana use or influence on the job.
- Make sure that you do not discriminate against employees because of their use of medical marijuana.
Point to remember: Employers need to make sure that employees are made aware of drug-free workplace policies upon hire and periodically throughout their employment.
A comprehensive drug-free workplace program is critical to creating a healthy, drug-free workplace.
For more information on how we can help with your Payroll, Human Resources and Drug
Free Program, call Clare Vazquez, ClubPay HR Business Partner 561-281-4022 or
Would you like to learn how ClubPay streamlines Payroll & HR for Clubs?