Pubdate: Thu, 15 Sep 2016
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Lauren Weber
Note: Headline from Print Edition


The share of U.S. workers testing positive for illicit drug use
reached its highest level in a decade, according to data from millions
of workplace drug tests administered by Quest Diagnostics Inc., one of
the nation's largest medical-screening laboratories.

Detection of illicit drugs-from marijuana to heroin to
methamphetamine-increased slightly both for the general workforce and
the "safety-sensitive" workforce, which includes millions of truck
drivers, pilots, ship captains, subway engineers, and other
transportation workers. Employers are required to test those
individuals at random, as well as in specific situations such as after
accidents occur.

Overall, 4% of worker drug tests were positive in 2015. Among
safety-sensitive workers, positive tests rose to 1.8% from 1.7%. In
the general workforce, positive tests rose to 4.8% from 4.7%.

Some of the positive results are later discarded if a worker produces
a doctor's prescription for a legal drug. However, the majority
reflect illicit use, driven by increases in detection of amphetamines,
cocaine and heroin, according to the Quest data.

In 2015, positive results from workers tested by Quest rose for the
third year in a row following decades of declines.

The data, which is based on more than 9.5 million urine tests, mostly
echoes broader statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, which surveys Americans about drug use every year.
The agency found that in 2014, the year of the most recent completed
survey, about 10% of Americans over age 12 had used an illicit drug in
the prior 30 days, the highest share since at least 2002.

Quest publishes data going back to 1988, when 13.6% of U.S. workers'
drug tests came back positive. That year, Ronald Reagan signed the
Drug-Free Workplace Act and soon after federal rules began mandating
drug checks for safety-sensitive workers. Testing also became more
broadly accepted as a workplace practice even for non-transportation
jobs, particularly as a pre-employment screen.

The share of positive tests declined to a low of 3.5% in 2010 and
stayed at that level until 2012, when it began to rise. The increases
overlap with legislation in Colorado and Washington, where voters
approved initiatives allowing the recreational use of marijuana in
2012. Since then, more than 20 other states have legalized that drug
in some form.

Marijuana "remains America's favorite illegal drug," said Barry
Sample, director of science and technology for Quest's employer
solutions business. Nearly half of all workplace positive tests are
for marijuana, with the number holding steady from 2014.

While states that have legalized some form of the drug exhibit higher
marijuana positivity rates, the numbers didn't increase in Colorado
and Washington from 2014, said Dr. Sample.

"We've heard concerns from some employers [in those states] about the
difficulty in identifying and hiring workers that will pass the drug
test primarily because of marijuana positives, but when we look at our
macro picture, our data doesn't necessarily bear that out," he said.

More troubling was an increase in detection of heroin. While the
numbers are relatively small-less than one-tenth of 1% of all drug
tests-heroin positives increased 146% in the general workforce between
2011 and 2015 and 84% in the safety-sensitive workforce.

Heroin use has increased in part because of a crackdown on abuse of
prescription opiates such as hydrocodone, said Dr. Sample. Drug users
turn to heroin when it is "more difficult or expensive to obtain extra
prescriptions from physicians, or buy diverted pharmaceutical
products" illegally, he said.

On the other side of that coin, Quest found that detection of the two
most common prescription opiates-hydrocodone and hydromorphone-fell
steeply in 2015.
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