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Workplace Drug Use Declining

Drug use among American workers has declined dramatically over the past 25 years, although the rate of positive test results for certain drugs, including amphetamine and opiates, continues to climb, according to a landmark analysis of workplace drug test results released by Quest Diagnostics. The special 25th anniversary Drug Testing Index (DTI) coincides with the passage of the Drug-Free Workplace Act in 1988, which was a catalyst for greater awareness of the problem of workplace drug use and the implementation of workplace drug education and monitoring programs, including drug testing, by federal agencies and private employers in the United States.

The DTI analysis examined more than 125 million drug tests performed by Quest Diagnostics forensic toxicology laboratories across the United States as a service for government and private employers between 1988 and 2012. The analysis examined the annual positivity rate for employees in positions subject to certain federal safety regulations, such as truck drivers, train operators, airline and nuclear power plant workers (federally mandated safety-sensitive workers); workers primarily from private companies (U.S. general workforce); and the results of both groups together (combined U.S. workforce). The index reports the percentage of results that tested positive for the presence of a drug or its metabolite, an adulterant or that involved a specimen that was deemed to be unacceptable for testing ("positivity").

Key findings from the analysis:

The positivity rate for the combined U.S. workforce declined 74 percent, from 13.6 percent in 1988 to 3.5 percent in 2012.
The positivity rate for the federally-mandated safety sensitive workforce declined by 40 percent, from 2.6 percent in 1992 to 1.6 percent % in 2012.
The positivity rate for the U.S. general workforce (private companies) declined by 60 percent, from 10.3 percent in 1992 to 4.1 percent in 2012.

Despite the declines in overall drug use, the DTI analysis also found that the positivity rate for certain segments of drugs has increased.

Positivity rates for amphetamines, including amphetamine and methamphetamine, has nearly tripled (196 percent higher) in the combined U.S. workforce and, in 2012, were at the highest level since 1997. The positivity rate for amphetamine itself, including prescription medications, has more than doubled in the last 10 years.
Positivity rates for prescription opiates, which include the drugs hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone and oxymorphone, have also increased steadily over the last decade — more than doubling for hydrocodone and hydromorphone and up 71 percent for oxycodone — reflective of national prescribing trends.

These trends suggest that employers should continue to implement and maintain drug-testing procedures.

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