The liberalization of drug use laws across the country – particularly when it comes to marijuana – appears to be driving a notable increase in workforce positive drug test results, according to the annual research released by Quest Diagnostics, the country’s largest drug testing services provider.
The percentage of employees in the general U.S. workforce testing positive for marijuana following an on-the-job accident increased to its highest level in 25 years in 2022, Quest reported in its latest annual research report on the extent of drug abuse.
In 2022, post-accident marijuana positivity of urine drug tests in the general U.S. workforce was 7.3%, an increase of 9% compared to the 6.7% reported in 2021, the company said, caused largely by the growth in cannabis use.
“This historic rise seems to correspond with sharp increases in positivity for marijuana in both pre-employment and post-accident drug tests, suggesting that changing societal attitudes about marijuana may be impacting workplace behaviors and putting colleagues at risk,” explained Keith Ward, Quest’s general manager and vice president for employer solutions.
The increases in post-accident marijuana positivity in recent years correspond with legalization of marijuana in more states. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Since then, 19 additional states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana and 38 states (plus D.C.) have legalized medical use, although either kind of use remains illegal under federal law.
“State legalization of the drug creates new challenges for employers,” observes Katie
Mueller, a senior program manager at the National Safety Council, whose work responsibility focuses on cannabis safety.
“Intoxicating cannabis products, including marijuana, can have a major impact on safety at work and have been proven to slow reaction time, impact memory and impair skills essential to driving,” she adds.
The Quest data provide compelling evidence that this increased use of cannabis products by employees can contribute to greater risk for injuries in the workplace, Mueller emphasized. “It is imperative employers take the proper steps to create and maintain a policy that addresses cannabis use, build a safety-focused culture and educate the workforce to keep all workers safe on and off the job.”
Amphetamines positivity also contributed to the increase in drug use, Quest stresses. Positivity for marijuana in the general U.S. workforce rose by 10.3% (from 4.3% positivity in 2022 versus 3.9% positivity in 2021). In addition, amphetamines positivity increased 15.4% (from 1.5% positivity in 2022 versus 1.3% positivity in 2021).
The new peak follows a steady rise in post-accident marijuana positivity every year from 2012 to 2022. In that 10-year time frame, post-accident marijuana positivity increased 204.2%.
Quest said the increase in amphetamines positivity also is notable, given the addictive potential and health risks associated with this class of drugs.
The rising overall drug positivity rate for general workforce from urine testing was observed widely across U.S. industries. Over the past five years, the workforce positivity rate climbed in most industry sectors, the research found.
The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index report is based on more than 10.6 million identified urine, hair and oral-fluid drug test results reported between January and December 2022 for employees in the private sector, including those in safety sensitive jobs like pilots and truck drivers.