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Workforce Drug Positivity Hits 16-Year High

Image via chris farr on Unsplash

The number of Americans in favor of legalizing marijuana has steadily increased for decades. According to Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who believe the use of marijuana should be legal has increased from just 12% in 1969 to 67% in 2019.

Not surprisingly, those most in favor of legalizing marijuana are from younger generations. The survey found that 76% of millennials and 65% of Gen-X are in favor of it being legalized, while 63% of Baby Boomers and just 35% of the Silent Generation are in favor.

With younger generations increasingly making up the workforce, the results of an analysis released by Quest Diagnostics shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Quest Diagnostics, which is the world's leading provider of diagnostic information services, found that the rate of workforce drug positivity hit a sixteen-year high of 4.5% in 2019.

The most common drug found in workplace testing was marijuana. The percentage of positive tests increased to 3.1% in 2019 from 2.8% in 2018. The positivity rate for marijuana tests has now increased by 29% since 2015.

"Marijuana continues to be an enduring presence in the U.S. workforce. Changing attitudes toward its use could pose heightened risks especially in safety-sensitive positions and those states exploring legalization," said Dr. Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics.

Quest Diagnostics found that methamphetamine positivity continues to surge in the Midwest region. While the Midwest region continued to see an annual increase in methamphetamine positivity, the five year trend is alarming. The region has seen a 78% increase over the last five years with Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio seeing increases of at least two-fold.

"While the national debate on drug misuse in the workforce has focused primarily on marijuana, increasing positivity rates for cocaine and methamphetamine are also cause for concern," Dr. Sample said. "Positivity by drug and region can be random and unpredictable. Our data is a reminder that it is important to remain vigilant about all drug misuse in the workforce."

Quest Diagnostics is concerned that the trend in drug use could be exacerbated by the coronavirus.

"There is no question that before COVID-19, rates of workplace drug positivity were trending in the wrong direction, based on our Quest Diagnostics data, the enormous strain caused by COVID-19 may prove to be an accelerant on this disturbing trend," Dr. Sample said. "Organizations will need to consider the impact of COVID-19 not only on workplace safety but also as a health concern for their employees for some time to come."

With everything that has gone on this year, it would be shocking to see the trend in workforce drug positivity decline this year after hitting the highest level in nearly 20 years.

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