While Fewer Employers Test for Pot, Positivity Rate Rises

The percentage of working Americans testing positive for drugs climbed last year, according to a new report, indicating employee drug use was on the rise just as the coronavirus pandemic created new stresses.\

Overall, the proportion of U.S. workers who tested positive for drugs in urine in 2019 rose to 4.5 percent, the highest level in 16 years, according to Quest Diagnostics Inc., which analyzed about nine million tests last year on behalf of employers.

That positivity rate was 29 percent higher than the 30-year low of 3.5 percent a decade ago.

Marijuana use appears to be driving the 2019 increase. Positive test results climbed by 11 percent last year in the general workforce from the year before and 29 percent since 2015. In that four-year span, the number of states that legalized marijuana for recreational use grew from four to 11, plus the District of Columbia.

Whether more employees have tested positive for drugs amid the stresses of working through coronavirus shutdowns this year is not clear. Initial data suggest that both substance abuse and drug-related deaths are on the rise across the overall U.S.

The rise in positive drug-test rates comes even as fewer employers are including marijuana as one of the drugs for which they test. Overall, the number of urine drug tests that include marijuana declined 3 percent over the past five years. In states where recreational use has been legalized, they fell 6 percent.

Dale Gieringer, California director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, argues there is no relationship between such tests and workplace performance since they detect inactive metabolites that reside in a person for days.

“It is sort of like looking through workers’ trash at the end of the weekend and seeing if there are any empty beer or wine bottles in it,” he said. “It doesn’t really tell you much about how well a person performed on the job.”

Meanwhile, positive urine test rates continued to decline for opiates—primarily prescription pain relievers containing codeine and morphine—falling 19 percent in the general workforce compared to 2018 and 49 percent since 2015. Similarly, the presence of the metabolite that indicates heroin use dropped by 33 percent from 2018 and 50 percent since its peak in 2015 and 2016.

Source: Wall Street Journal