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Build Your Career Office Life

American Workers Increasingly Fail Drug Tests

American Workers Increasingly Fail Drug Tests
Credit: karen roach/Shutterstock

The number of positive drug tests by U.S. employees is on the rise.

Fueled by an increase in employee use of marijuana and amphetamines, the number of failed drug tests has gone up for the first time in more than a decade, according to research from Quest Diagnostics, a diagnostic information services firm.

An analysis of 7.6 million urine drug tests revealed a 3.7 percent failure rate in 2013, compared with a rate of 3.5 in 2012, a relative increase of more than 5 percent. This is the first time the rate of positive tests has gone up since 2003.

Additionally, among the 800,000 oral fluid drug tests, 6.7 percent returned positive results, up from 4.2 percent in 2009. Hair tests also saw a significant increase, with 7.4 percent of the 190,000 tests being positive. That 's a relative increase of nearly 25 percent from a year ago.

"After years of declines, the prevalence of positive workforce drug tests is increasing," Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, said in a statement. "This increase indicates that employers should be aware of the potential for drug use by their workers and the risk that represents for the health and safety of their employees and the public."

Marijuana continues to be the most commonly detected illicit drug, according to the research. Positive marijuana tests in the U.S. workforce, which includes employees with private companies and employees subject to federal drug testing rules, such as safety-sensitive truck drivers, train operators, airline and nuclear power plant workers, increased to 1.7 percent in 2013. [Employee Background Checks: What's Legal, What's Not ]

Colorado and Washington, the two states that made recreational marijuana use legal in the past year, saw huge jumps in the number of failed drug tests. Failed drug tests because of cannabis use increased 20 percent in Colorado and 23 percent in Washington state since 2012. The overall increase in all 50 states was 5 percent.

The huge increase can't all be attributed to the legalization of the drug in those states, researchers said. They noted that both Colorado and Washington experienced dramatic increases in positive tests for marijuana prior to legalization at the end of 2012.

Washington and Colorado are believed by many to foreshadow future trends in "recreational" marijuana use, Sample said.

"While Quest's Drug Testing Index shows dramatic spikes in marijuana positivity rates over the past year, a longer view of the data suggests a more complex picture," Sample said. "It is possible that relaxed societal views of marijuana use in those two states, relative to others, may in part be responsible for the recent increase in positivity rates."

Sample said in general, it's clear that marijuana use among workers is definitely on the rise across the United States.

"It is important for people to remember that while some states have legalized marijuana, the federal government has not," he said. "Employers generally have the authority to restrict the 'recreational' use of marijuana by employees and impose sanctions, including termination, on employees with positive drug tests in all 50 states."

In addition to marijuana, amphetamine use – specifically the use of methamphetamine – is also on the rise among U.S. workers. The research revealed a 10 percent increase this year in the number of failed drug tests because of amphetamine use.

One drug that has seen a drop in the number of failed drug tests is oxycodone. For the second year in a row, positive drug tests because of oxycodone declined. Specifically, oxycodone positivity declined 8.3 percent between 2013 and 2012 and 12.7 percent between 2012 and 2011.

Originally published on Business News Daily

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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