Wow. Newly Released 2017 Drug Test Results are Scary and Employers Need to Act.

It’s deja vu all over again.

Yogi Berra

Since 1988, Quest Diagnostics’ Annual Drug Testing Index has provided the nation’s most accurate information on changes in employee drug use. You should use this data to determine if testing is necessary, what drugs to test for, and the drugs to educate employees about.

I quoted the sage, Yogi Berra because we seem to be revisiting past trends.

Reason 1 – until the last few years, workplace drug issues had fallen off of most employers’’ screens because the positive test rate fell from a whopping 13.6% in 1988 to 3.5% in 2012 – 20+ years of decline. In 2013, they began to rise again, led by a staggeringly fast rise in opiates positivity.

Reason 2 – not only have the 30+ state laws legalizing medical and/or recreational marijuana created practical challenges, new state laws and aggressive Northeastern states’ courts are attacking the until-recently protected right of employers everywhere to require employees to report to work free from the presence of unlawful drugs based upon the Federal criminal Schedule, which treats marijuana as a Schedule-1 illegal drug. So yep, workplace drug issues are back.

Reason 3cocaine use is vigorously rising in some areas … really?! Are we going to have to download and watch old Miami Vice episodes?

From Quest Diagnostic’s May 8, 2018 release of its analysis of 10,000,000 2017 drug test results.

Prescription opiate positivity rate drops by double digits, while cocaine rises by double digits in certain states Methamphetamine positivity skyrockets in Midwestern and Southern United States Marijuana positivity rises considerably in states that recently enacted recreational use statutes, finds national analysis by Quest Diagnostics.

May 8, 2018 Quest Diagnostics Annual Drug Testing Index.

 Rate for Cocaine increased for the 5th consecutive year.

Double-digit year-over-year increases in at least four of the five past years were seen in:

  • Nebraska (91% increase between 2016 and 2017),
  • Idaho (88% increase),
  • Washington (31%),
  • Nevada (25%),
  • Maryland (22% increase), and
  • Wisconsin (13%)

Structure your drug testing and education efforts in these states to recognize that coke is back.

Between 2013 and 2017, methamphetamine positivity skyrocketed:

  • 167% in the East North Central division of the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin);
  • 160% in the East South Central division of the South (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee);
  • 150% in the Middle Atlantic division of the Northeast (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania); and
  • 140% in the South Atlantic division of the South (Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia).

Prescription opiates continue decline in workforce testing data.

This is great progress, but the battle has barely started.

“The depth of our large-scale analysis supports the possibility that efforts by policymakers, employers, and the medical community to decrease the availability of opioid prescriptions and curtail the opioid crisis is working to reduce their use, at least among the working public,”

Kim Samano, PhD scientific director, Quest Diagnostics.

Before we lose interest in what many of us think is the worst US Drug problem and potentially devastating for the economy, let’s humanize the statistics.

More Americans die of overdoses than in car crashes and gun homicides combined. In 2016, 64,000 people died due to drug abuse.

  • 23% related to prescription pain relievers.
  • 24% related to heroin.
  • 31% related to non-methadone, synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl)

In 2016, over 11.8 million people used heroin or misused prescription opioid pain relievers.

  • In 2015, 919,400 people 25 – 54 years old were not in labor force due to opioids.
  • From 1999-2015, the decline in labor force participation cumulatively cost economy 12.1 billion work hours.
  • During that period, the reduction in work hours slowed real annual economic growth rate by 0.2%, which translates to around $702.1 billion in real output.

American Action Forum (AAF), “The Labor Force And Output Consequences Of The Opioid Crisis” (March 2018).

We must enhance wellness and other efforts to equip employees to deal with these problems in their families.

Costs of Drug Using Employees Generally.

According to one reputable recent analysis, Drug-using employees are:

  • 2.2 times more likely to request early dismissal or time off,
  • 2.5 times more likely to have absences of eight days or more,
  • 3 times more likely to be late for work,
  • 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident, and
  • 5 times more likely to file a workers’ compensation claim.

Common sense and experience tells you that these estimates are probably accurate, especially with regard to accidents and workers comp claims.

But should most employers cease drug testing and/or relax their stance on marijuana?

For most employers the answer is no. The rise in non-marijuana use is devastating for American families and the economy. Employer enforcement is very much essential, as well as:

  • Reexamination of Rehab, EAP, and Wellness efforts.
  • New “Workplace Drug Education” and training beyond the tired old 1990s “Drugs Don’t Work” efforts.
  • Employee involvement and intervention, similar to efforts to reduce workplace violence, bullying, and harassment.
  • Education and assistance for employees whose families are dealing with drug issues, such as for children.

And Yet, the Societal Trend is to Downplay Drug Usage, at least for Marijuana.

Many of us do not much care what people do in the privacy of their home so long as it does not harm society. In part, because of the new state Marijuana laws and anti-employer court decisions in a few, mainly Northeastern States, one large public retailer announced that they would no longer test applicants. Many high tech employers have lost interest in testing, perhaps because they do not want to lose good high performing employees whose use if after hours (Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell for the drug world). I get it.

But should most employers cease drug testing and/or relax their stance on marijuana?

For most employers the answer is no. The rise in non-marijuana use is devastating for American families and the economy. Employer enforcement is very much essential, as well as:

Marijuana’s active elements can affect judgment and higher levels of reflexes days after use, and show no visible signs. I understand the reasons for people to use medical marijuana, but such use can present serious dangers and harm performance … and unlike alcohol impairment is difficult to catch. Drug testing seems essential.

But … and this is a big “but” … employers must review those old drug policies, monitor state laws, and contact their attorney. The answers are neither black and white nor simple. The Legal pitfalls are great. See January 4 & 5, 2018 Posts, Over 30 States have Medical and/or recreational Marijuana Laws.

Howard

About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
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