Pubdate: Wed, 17 May 2017
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Lauren Weber


More U.S. workers are testing positive for illicit drugs than at any
time in the last 12 years, according to data coming out today from
Quest Diagnostics Inc., one of the largest workplace-testing labs in
the nation.

The number of workers who tested positive for marijuana rose by 4%,
while positive results for other drugs also rose. The increases come
against a backdrop of more liberal marijuana state laws and an
apparent resurgence in the use of drugs like cocaine and

In 2016, 4.2% of the 8.9 million urine drug tests that Quest conducted
on behalf of employers came back positive, up from 4% in 2015. It is
the highest rate since 2004, when 4.5% of tests showed evidence of
potentially illicit drug use.

Marijuana remains the most commonly used drug among U.S. workers and
was identified in 2.5% of all urine tests for the general workforce in
2016, up from 2.4% a year earlier. Quest also tests people, such as
bus drivers and airline pilots, in jobs that affect public safety. For
these jobs, regular drug testing is mandated by federal rules. In this
segment, 0.78% of workers tested positive for marijuana, up from 0.71%
in the previous year.

Workers in states that permit recreational marijuana use appear to be
picking up the habit. The number of workers testing positive in
Colorado rose 11%; in Washington-9%. The rates of increase in these
states, the first to legalize pot, were more than double the increase
nationwide in 2016.

In prior years, trends in those states tracked what was happening
across the U.S.

Employers in Colorado and Washington can fire or choose not to hire
someone who tests positive for marijuana despite the state laws. More
recent statutes in states like Maine would give employers less leeway
for punishing workers with traces of pot in their urine.

Drug use appears to be higher among the broader American population
compared with just workers and job applicants subject to testing. In
2015, 6.5% of Americans ages 26 and older admitted on a government
survey that they had used marijuana or hashish in the prior month,
according to the National Institutes of Health's most recent analysis
of drug use. Among those 18 to 25 years old, the share climbs to 19.8%.

Another concern for employers is the continuing rise in cocaine
positives, particularly in drug tests conducted after workplace
accidents. Of U.S. workers tested by Quest, traces of cocaine were
found in 0.28% of tests. The share of positives from postaccident
tests was more than twice as high as the rate from pre-employment

"While a test can't tell you whether or not the use of cocaine is what
caused that incident, it certainly raises the level of concern that
cocaine may have had some impact," said Barry Sample, senior director
of science and technology for Quest's employment-testing unit.

Amphetamine positives-which include Adderall, commonly prescribed for
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder-rose for all workers to 1.1%
of urine tests, up from 0.97% in 2015. Some positive results are later
discarded if a worker produces a doctor's prescription for a legal
drug. Quest found that methamphetamine positives continue to climb in
the general workforce, rising 64% between 2012 and 2016, amounting to
an overall positivity rate of 0.18% for the general workforce last

One bright spot: The use of prescription opioids like oxycodone
appears to be on the decline. In 2016, even heroin positives leveled
off-a reversal of a previous pattern. In the past, heroin positives
increased as law-enforcement agencies and regulators cracked down on
illegal opioid prescriptions, Dr. Sample said.
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