The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index has issued an analysis of substance abuse in the workplace every year since 1988. In this year’s release, issued recently at the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association’s annual conference, the analysis of 2015 testing showed a ten-year spike in employees testing for illicit drugs:

“Insights from the 2015 data show that the positivity rate for 9.5 million urine drug tests in the combined U.S. workforce increased to four percent, a relative change of 2.6 percent over the positivity rate in 2014 (4.0% versus 3.9%). The 2015 positivity rate reflects a relative increase of 14 percent over the 10-year low of 3.5 percent observed in both 2010 and 2011. The last year that the positivity rate for urine drug tests in the combined U.S. workforce was at or above four percent was 2005, when it reached 4.1 percent.”

One notable trend is a rising positivity rate for federally-mandated safety sensitive workers, which increased to 6.2% in 2015. The rate for this population has risen 22% over the last five years.

Safety sensitive workers encompass employees who perform work related to the public safety of the traveling public and national security roles. The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 requires drug and alcohol testing of all safety-sensitive transportation employees in aviation, trucking, railroads, mass transit, pipelines, and other transportation industries. (Learn more about safety sensitive workers)

The report indicates another troubling trend: while some opioid prescriptions are declining, there is a “disturbing increase in heroin positives.”

In addition to the spike in illicit drugs discussed in the report, recent years have also seen an alarming increase in abuse of prescription drugs. While some of these drugs are obtained illegally, many problems can ensue from legally prescribed drugs, too – a particular issue with injured workers who are prescribed opioids for pain and who then develop a dependency.

As part of TotalCare Wellness, we have coaches and clinicians who address substance abuse issues. Members who are experiencing a problem with abuse of alcohol, prescription medications or other substances, may call TotalCare Wellness directly to seek help, or they may be referred for counseling by a supervisor or Human Resources Manager as part of a disciplinary plan. Our coaches and clinicians offer guidance about available treatment options, provide treatment referrals when appropriate, and provide ongoing support during recovery programs.

If you are an employer / HR manager who is concerned about substance abuse in the workplace, we point you to Prescription Drug Guidelines: What employers need to know. ESI’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has been dealing with work-related substance abuse issues for more than 30 years. We compiled this list of reports and resources for employers and published it on ESI’s HR Web Cafe blog.



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