Drug use in workplace at highest point in 12 years

In Colorado and Washington the first states in which recreational marijuana use was legalized the overall urine positivity rate for marijuana outpaced the national average in 2016 for the first time since the statutes took effect

In Colorado and Washington the first states in which recreational marijuana use was legalized the overall urine positivity rate for marijuana outpaced the national average in 2016 for the first time since the statutes took effect

The number of USA workers who tested positive for such drugs as cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana rose to a 12-year high during 2016, according to the Quest Diagnostic's Drug Testing Index 2017 released Tuesday.

Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, have seen particularly large increases in positive test results and now exceed the national average, but they still lag far behind OR, which has the highest rate of positive marijuana tests at 3.9 percent.

According to reports, more USA workers are testing positive for illegal drugs. Cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28 percent, compared to 0.25 percent in 2015 in the general USA workforce, and seven percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers to 0.28 percent, compared to 0.26 percent in 2015. It has risen each year since, to 3.7 percent in 2013, 3.9 percent in 2014, 4.0 percent in 2015 and 4.2 percent in 2016, Quest Diagnostics reported. Texas, South Carolina and North Carolina had the highest rates of positive cocaine tests.

Robert Chaimowitz, director of recruiting at recruiting firm Executive Alliance in Commack, said that drug testing is far from universal.

"It's pretty alarming", said Dr. David Fletcher, a medical review officer and founder of SafeWorks Illinois in Champaign, which analyzes drug tests for employers and was not involved in the analysis.

Businesses will have to deal with a "whole generation" that is more inclined to smoke marijuana than drink liquor, he said.

In 2016, 4.2% of the 8.9 million urine drug tests that Quest Diagnostics Inc., one of the largest workplace-testing labs in the nation, conducted on behalf of employers came back positive, up from 4% in 2015. This represents the highest annual positivity rate since 2004, when positive tests were at 4.5%, the study shows.

Positive tests for marijuana use continued to climb in both the federally mandated, safety-sensitive and general USA workforces, according to the study.

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The positivity rate in urine testing for cocaine increased for the fourth consecutive year in the general US workforce and for the second consecutive year in the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce.

Amphetamines (which includes amphetamine and methamphetamine) positivity continued its year-over-year upward trend, increasing more than eight percent in urine testing in both the general US and federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforces compared to 2015. Urine screens that detected pot rose 11 percent in Colorado and 9 percent in Washington, the first time either state outpaced the national average since residents could lawfully light up a joint.

Testing results for heroin and prescription opiates were both down.

But after declining for more than two decades, the rate of positive results has been climbing since 2012. "Work that is considered "safety sensitive" typically requires that test, and that's not changing".

After four straight years of increases, in 2016, urine testing positivity for heroin, indicated by the presence of the 6-acetylmorphine (6-AM) metabolite, held steady in the general USA workforce and declined slightly among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers. Hydrocodone and hydromorphone both showed double-digit declines in both 2015 and 2016 (0.92% in 2015 to 0.81% in 2016) and (0.67% in 2015 to 0.59% in 2016), respectively.

However, tighter controls on prescription opioids might be driving some people to turn to heroin, Fletcher said.

The results were also broken down by drug type. The Department of Transportation does not recognize medical marijuana as a "valid medical explanation" for failing a drug test. Those populations were then combined for a third result group.

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