States

Both Progress and Peril in 25 Years of Drug Testing Results

Quest Diagnostics released an overview of the first quarter-century of experience with the Drug-Free Workplace Act, more than 125 million urine tests in all, and showed overall use of most drugs has fallen significantly.

Quest Diagnostics officials joined with the leaders of DATIA, SAPAA, and other organizations concerned with workplace substance abuse as Quest released Drug Testing Index™ analysis Nov. 18 timed to the signing of the Drug-Free Workplace Act by President Ronald Reagan 25 years earlier. The summary data represent more than 125 million urine tests during the intervening years, and while one speaker said overall, "this data is very encouraging," with a 60 percent drop in positives among the general U.S. workforce since 1992, these experts identified two big danger signs.

First, Colorado and Washington state have legalized recreational marijuana use. Second, abuse of prescription drugs, particularly prescription opiates, is rising. "Prescription opiates, we're seeing double-digit and sometimes triple-digit increases over the last 10 years," said R.H. Barry Sample, Ph.D., director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions.

He said the overall data show the positive rate among workers for whom testing is federally required has fallen from 2.6 percent in 1992 to 1.6 percent in 2012. The positive rate among those tested in the general U.S. workforce fell from 10.3 percent in 1992 to 4.1 percent in 2012, Sample said.

Sample and the other speakers -– Laura Shelton, executive director of the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA); Dr. Harvey W. Kaufman, Quest senior medical director; Mary Brown-Ybos, president of the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association (SAPAA); Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug-Free America Foundation; and Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace -– agreed the law increased employers' awareness of the dangers of illicit drug use and the value of drug testing for improving safety and cutting worker's compensation costs, among other benefits.

"Today's Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index 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 Shelton. "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."

"I think employers have gotten religion on this issue," de Bernardo said. He said company-sponsored employee assistance programs are the most effective strategy, and that it's now the norm in America to have job applicants undergo drug testing, thanks to the law.

Speaking of the two states' recent marijuana legalization, de Bernardo said, "It's an international fiasco that we have states legalizing marijuana."

Brown-Ybos said large trucking companies and refineries already are using random hair testing to ensure their workers are not using illegal drugs. Only two states, Hawaii and Iowa, currently ban hair testing.

Quest's testing services identify approximately 20 commonly abused drugs, including marijuana, opiates, and cocaine. Among the new index's key findings are that positivity rates for amphetamines have increased by 196 percent in the combined U.S. workforce and positivity rates for prescription opiates also have increased steadily during the past decade.

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