U.S. workers fail drug tests at highest rate in 16 years, despite growing trend towards legalizing marijuana


  • Americans tested positive for drugs more often in 2019 than in the past 16 years.
  • Quest Diagnostics, one of America’s largest test providers, said in its annual report that rates of marijuana were on the rise while opiates and heroin continued to fall.
  • Some activist organizations oppose how drug testing in the workplace has become prevalent, especially in non-“security-sensitive” industries.
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American workers tested for drugs at work tested positive at the highest rate in 16 years in 2019, according to one of the largest testing providers, despite growing public support for legalized marijuana.

Quest Diagnostics, which made headlines this year for COVID-19 testing delays, said on Tuesday that workforce drug positivity rates hit 4.5% in 2019, the highest since 2003 The company says the coronavirus pandemic – which shows no signs of stopping anytime soon in the United States – has likely accelerated the use of certain substances.

“There is no doubt that before COVID-19, drug positivity rates in the workplace were moving in the wrong direction,” said Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest, in A press release. “Organizations will need to consider the impact of COVID-19 not only on workplace safety, but also as a health issue for their employees for some time to come. ”

Marijuana remained the most commonly detected drug, Quest said, despite a growing number of states where its medical and recreational use has been legalized. This number is expected to increase even more in 2020.

“We’ve seen some employers take a secondary stance on marijuana and be more willing to maybe change their drug testing requirements,” said Michelle Bearden, risk manager for a Texas-based recruiting company, in. Wall Street Journal. .

Yet some US government agencies and many “security sensitive” industries view cannabis as a deciding factor for applicants. Quest’s Sample says that “changing attitudes towards its use could pose increased risks, particularly in security-sensitive positions and in states exploring legalization. ”

Opiates and heroin have resisted general trends, with positivity rates declining compared to recent years. The positivity rates for commonly used pain relievers like oxycodone or oxymorphone have fallen nearly 55% since 2015, Quest said. Yet overdose deaths have skyrocketed in the United States during the pandemic, as economic uncertainty increases with massive unemployment.

Initial data from the Centers for Disease Control for 2020 reported by the New York Times shows a 13% increase in overdose deaths this year compared to 2019, which could be a bad sign for the country’s attempts to continuously reduce the number. of overdose victims.

Many activist groups have called for stricter workplace drug testing regulations, which the ACLU says “is unfair, often inaccurate and unproven as a way to stop drug use.”

“Employers have the right to expect that workers will not be drugged or drunk at work,” the organization says. “But they shouldn’t have the right to require employees to prove their innocence by taking a drug test. “


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