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November 20, 2013
Workplace drug use is down, but prescription abuse is up

According to the latest findings from Quest Diagnostics, drug use among American workers has declined dramatically over the past 25 years. But the rate of use for some prescription drugs continues to climb. Keep reading to find out who’s using what on the job and why it matters.

Quest announced the most recent results to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Drug-Free Workplace Act. The 1988 legislation drew attention to the problem of workplace drug use and led to implementation of drug education and monitoring programs by private employers and federal agencies.

The Quest Drug Testing Index (DTI) analyzed more than 125 million urine drug tests performed between 1988 and 2012. The recent study looked at the positive rate for employees in safety-sensitive positions (truck drivers, nuclear power plant workers, and airline workers), as well as for those in the general U.S. workforce.

  • The positive rate for the overall U.S. workforce dropped from 13.6 percent in 1988 to 3.5 percent in 2012—a 74 percent decline.
  • The rate of drug use for safety-sensitive employees has declined by 40 percent, from 2.6 percent in 1992 to 1.6 percent in 2012.
  • Positives for amphetamine use nearly tripled and were at the highest level since 1997.
  • Positives for prescription opiates (hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone) have increased steadily over the past decade. Oxycodone use, for example, is up more than 70 percent in the last decade.

Commented Quest’s Dr. Barry Sample, “Our data shows that an increasing number of workers are testing positive for certain prescription drugs, such as opiates and stimulants, reflecting the increased use, and potentially abuse, of prescription medications in the U.S.”

Important facts about workplace drug use

  • Drug abuse costs employers $81 billion annually.
  • About 70 percent of the 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.
  • Marijuana is the most commonly used and abused illegal drug by employees, followed by cocaine and prescription drugs.
  • Workers who report having three or more jobs in the previous five years are about twice as likely to be users of illegal drugs as those who have had two or fewer jobs.
  • Employers with successful Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and Drug-Free Workplace Programs (DFWPs) report declines in accidents, absenteeism, downtime, turnover, and theft, as well as better emloyee health.

Get more information about workplace drug use at

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