Drug Use Among Workers at Highest Rate in 16 Years

Source: Martti Tapio Salmela - 123RF

The rate of workforce drug positivity hit a sixteen-year high in 2019, according to a new analysis by Quest Diagnostics.

Positivity rates in the combined U.S. workforce increased in urine drug tests, climbing to the highest level since 2003 (4.5%) and more than 28% percent higher than the thirty-year low of 3.5 percent recorded between 2010 and 2012.

In addition to overall increases in workforce drug positives, specific regions of the United States, particularly the Midwest, experienced dramatic increases in positivity for cocaine and methamphetamine as well as marijuana.

Over the last five years, methamphetamine positivity in the general U.S. workforce testing increased by nearly 12%

Drug deaths in the US rose 5 percent in 2019, following a decline in 2018. During the first few months of 2020, drug deaths increased about 13 percent compared with last year, attributable partly to social isolation and other disruptions caused by COVID-19.

While cocaine positivity tested highest in the midwest at 43% and western states at 50%, opiate testing declined more than 19 percent.

Marijuana continues to top the list of the most commonly detected illicit substances across all workforce categories (general U.S. workforce; federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce; and combined U.S. workforce, which includes the prior two populations) and specimen types (urine, oral fluid, and hair).

The Retail Trade industry had the highest overall positivity rate, while the Accommodation and Food Service industries saw the highest increase in marijuana use.

According to NIOSH, the construction industry has one of the highest injury rates compared with other industries.

Opioids have commonly been prescribed to construction workers to treat pain caused by these occupational injuries.

Workers in the industry also have higher rates of opioid overdose death compared with other groups. Because opioid use can lead to addiction and overdose deaths, construction workers should understand the risks of opioid use and the importance of considering alternatives for pain management.

Vaping among school-age children increased by almost 80 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Vaping puts nicotine into the body. Nicotine is highly addictive and can:

  • Slow brain development in teens and affect memory, concentration, learning, self-control, attention, and mood; and
  • Increase the risk of other types of addiction later in life.

E-cigarettes also:

  • Irritate the lungs;
  • May cause serious lung damage and even death; and
  • Can lead to smoking cigarettes and other forms of tobacco use.

Some people use e-cigarettes to vape marijuana, THC oil, and other dangerous chemicals. Besides irritating the lungs, these drugs also affect how someone thinks, acts, and feels. 

According to the NSC, drug poisonings, a category that includes opioid-related overdoses, account for more than half of off-the-job fatalities.

Additionally, some of the most frequent occupational injuries involving days away from work – overexertion, bodily reaction, and slips, trips, and falls – can result in an opioid prescription.

People who take opioid pain relievers for too long or in doses too large are more at risk of developing an opioid use disorder and more likely to die of a drug overdose.

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