In 1988, 13.6% of urine tests were found to contain traces of drugs; that number then steadily declined, bottoming out at 3.5% in 2012. However, the past two years have seen an uptick in that percentage with 3.7% in 2013 and 3.9% in 2014. The 2014 percentage represents an 11.4% increase from 2012.
Two drugs have seen a large increase in their positive test rates over the last 4 years. Marijuana, which “accounts for nearly half of all positive tests” according to the Wall Street Journal article, and amphetamines, have both seen a rise in their percentage of positive tests. Other drug categories either remained unchanged, decreased, or did not increase significantly. The increase in positive tests for marijuana can be seen as a response to the general public’s rapidly shifting opinion on marijuana. While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, state laws and regulations are changing so quickly that it can be difficult to stay up-to-date on where marijuana is legal, where it has been approved for medicinal use, decriminalized, or still remains illegal. While marijuana is in various stages of legal transition on a state-by-state basis, it is still regarded as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. Schedule 1 drugs are not considered legitimate for medical use.
Employers that conduct drug screening of applicants or other types of workplace drug testing should monitor any changes in state law that might occur as a result of the 2016 election process. Reviewing your current drug policies will ensure that you are up-to-date on current state laws, and are confident that your policy accurately reflects your organization’s position on a drug-free workplace.
The growth in positive tests for amphetamines raises another interesting facet of administering a drug testing program. The number of positive tests for amphetamines nearly doubled from 2008 to 2014 according to the Wall Street Journal. This is in large part due to the increased prescribing of amphetamines for such disorders as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If a drug test is “positive” for amphetamines, a physician who is a certified Medical Review Officer (MRO) will request documentation of a legitimate prescription. Once a prescription for amphetamines has been verified, the test is reported by the MRO to the company as being “negative”.
The Wall Street Journal found “independent studies show 65% to 80% of positive tests for legal drugs are ultimately disregarded for that reason.” If the complexities of running a drug & alcohol testing program cause stress, and take up a significant amount of time for your organization, consider partnering with an organization that can seamlessly handle all the intricacies of a complex drug & alcohol testing program. For example, if your organization does not currently use a pre-placement drug and alcohol testing program, consider implementing one. Or, if you do currently screen applicants, consider expanding the scope of your program to include random testing, post-accident testing, reasonable suspicion, or even expanding the drug panel that you currently use to include more drugs of abuse. Remember that even legitimate use of certain prescription medications can have implications for performing “safety sensitive” job functions, and should be considered as part of a company’s overall approach to employee drug and alcohol use.