Recent reports show that substance abuse in the United States is rising. As a result, some employers consider ending their drug testing programs, and others weigh the benefits and drawbacks of keeping marijuana testing in place. The 2022 Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index (DTI) provides insightful data on drug use patterns in the workplace. The key takeaway for employers is that drug testing is now more crucial than ever.

For many years, the annual DTI has served as the primary source of crucial key indicators for workplace drug testing. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health of the federal government found that substance abuse, including marijuana use, is rising in America. Other national reports, such as the 2022 DTI, support these findings. The DTI’s results imply that the workplace is not immune to the issue.

In a competitive job market, employers have two options. The first is to hire quickly and without checking for drug use. The second is to take the time to employ drug-free employees to create a safer workplace that may improve a company’s reputation. Regardless of the sector, testing for drug use can and will continue to give employers peace of mind.

Important Findings from DTI

Employers continue to find value in drug testing at work. Positive drug test results rose in 2021, according to the analysis of trends presented in the DTI, underscoring the importance of comprehensive drug-free workplace initiatives.

Based on nearly nine million urine drug tests collected between January and December 2021, the overall positivity rate in the combined US workforce (general US workforce, federally mandated, and safety-sensitive) increased to 4.6 percent from 4.4 percent in 2020, up more than 30% from an all-time low of 3.5 percent just ten years ago (2010-2012). The report also reveals a decline in opiates, amphetamines, and heroin positivity rates from 2020 to 2021.

The DTI reports an increase in marijuana-related positive drug test results. In addition, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health of the federal government, which indicates an increase in marijuana use, supports this.

Based on an analysis of more than 6 million urine drug tests, marijuana positivity rates in the general US workforce increased by 8.3 percent (3.6 percent in 2020 vs. 3.9 percent in 2021). This is the highest positivity rate ever recorded by the DTI. In addition, the general US workforce’s favorable attitude toward marijuana increased by 50% over five years (2.6 percent in 2017 versus 3.9 percent in 2021).

Results of a Post-Accident Drug Test

An unintended consequence of more employees testing positive for drugs could be the presence of more workers who are impaired by drugs at work. This invariably has the potential to jeopardize workplace safety and increase accident rates. For example, the DTI discovered that post-accident positivity increased by 26% over the previous five years in urine drug testing of the US workforce as a whole (7.7 percent in 2017 versus 9.7 percent in 2021). Similarly, post-accident positivity increased by 41.9 percent in urine drug testing in the workforce, which is federally required and safety-sensitive (3.1 percent in 2017 versus 4.4 percent in 2021).

What Employers Need to Know

Substance abuse at work can have a negative impact on absenteeism, productivity, and turnover, among other aspects of employment. However, the impact of drug abuse on workplace safety is perhaps the most distressing and expensive consequence.

According to a study cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, employees who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment urine drug test had 55 percent more industrial accidents. They also had 85 percent more injuries and 75 percent higher absenteeism than those who tested negative for marijuana use.

Even with these disturbing statistics, some employers might be tempted to stop conducting drug tests or remove marijuana from their list of prohibited substances. For example, the Current Consulting Group polled 2022 drug testing companies, and 78% of them said they had clients who no longer required marijuana testing for employee screening. In addition, 53.3 percent of those subject to pre-employment testing did not submit it. In contrast, 15.6 percent did so for both pre-employment and random testing.

However, more than half of employers who eliminated THC testing reported an increase in incidents or other workplace performance issues, according to a survey by the National Safety Council (NSC). “States with legal recreational or medicinal cannabis are reporting an increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes involving THC,” the NSC added.

To put the price of drug-related impairment at work into perspective, keep in mind that the average cost of all workers’ compensation claims in 2017–2018 was $41,003. According to the same study, motor vehicle accidents cause injuries that result in the most expensive lost-time workers’ compensation claims, costing an average of $78,466 per claim made in 2017 and 2018.

Advantages of Drug Testing

There are numerous benefits to drug testing applicants and employees that have been well-documented. Particularly pre-employment drug testing can aid in identifying substance abusers before they are hired by a business. Drug users can cost their new employer an average of $8,500 annually in lost productivity and increased accidents. However, some reports claim that fewer employers are testing for drugs to better compete in a competitive hiring market. On the other hand, it makes sense that a business that doesn’t use pre-employment drug testing will hire more drug users.

For businesses that conduct drug testing, it might take a little longer to fill a vacancy, but the risks of not doing so could be very high. A company that conducts drug tests shows that it values the security and well-being of its workers. Drug-using applicants are discouraged by this same reputation.

It is now crucial to advance a company’s drug-free workplace program and invest in what suits each workforce and each company’s objectives. This is because substance abuse rates are at alarmingly high levels. In addition, positive drug test results have dramatically increased over the past five years, according to the DTI. Where permitted by state law, employers may take into account a variety of testing justifications, such as random testing, reasonable suspicion, or return to duty testing. As a result, an employer can use a virtually limitless number of combinations in their toolbox for workplace safety when coupled with several testing methodologies and specimen types.

Conclusion

Given the state of the marijuana industry, some concessions might not be worth it in the long run for the health and security of workers going to or coming back from work. Therefore, it is wise for employers to maintain a thorough drug-test panel that includes all of the most popular drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and opiates.

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  • enquiries@wdta.org.au

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