How the Covid-19 Pandemic Affected Drug Use at Work

The year 2020 presented a wide range of challenges to many of us. One tragic and alarming trend was a dramatic rise in substance abuse and overdose deaths throughout the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we saw an 18.2% increase in overdoses in 2020. But how did drug use trends change within the workplace?

Data in the Quest Diagnostics 2021 Annual Report on workforce drug testing is drawn from over 7 million employee drug tests administered in 2020, and it shows mixed results.

The overall rate of positive results on workplace drug tests declined slightly from 4.5% in 2019 to 4.4% in 2020. Positive test results for marijuana continued to rise steadily, while amphetamine positivity rates stayed steady at 1.1%, which is what it has been every year since 2016.

Many workers in industries performing public safety or national security roles “requiring a high degree of public trust” are subject to federally-mandated drug testing requirements from the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Defense (DOD), or Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRL). In 2020, positivity rates among these Safety-Sensitive workers decreased 8.3% from 2019, but were still 10% higher than the 2016 rates.

As the Safety-Sensitive workforce positive rates decreased, the general workforce rates increased. Overall positivity rates for the general workforce in 2020 increased 3.8% over the previous year, with 5.5% of all tests positive, putting the rate 12.2% higher than in 2016. Nevada and Oklahoma had the highest positivity rates in the country, and Nebraska and Wyoming showed a few of the lowest positivity rates.

Cocaine Positivity Rate Declines

In the general workforce, positive tests for cocaine were down 18.5% at 0.22% positive compared to 2019. This is the lowest number of positive cocaine tests since 2012.

Marijuana Positivity Rate Skyrockets

The positive test rate for marijuana continues to skyrocket in the general workforce, with positivity rate in 2020 being as high as 3.6% in comparison with the 2019 rate of 3.1%. The Safety-Sensitive workforce positive test rate for marijuana started to improve slightly in 2020 at 2.2% positive. While this is still 10% higher than the 2016 rates, it is at least an improvement.

Post-accident marijuana usage in the general workforce is also heading for the stars with 6.4% of tests administered following an accident testing positive. This is a huge cause for concern for employers and employees alike who strive to ensure a safe workplace. Positivity rates in the Safety-Sensitive workforce post-accident tests stayed steady at 1.6% throughout 2019 and 2020.

Not surprisingly, positivity rates in states that have legalized recreational marijuana usage is consistently rising. Positive workplace marijuana tests increased 118.2% since 2012 and sat at 4.8% positivity in 2020. In the states that have not legalized marijuana, the rate also increased, but only 68.4% since 2012 and were charted at 3.2% positive.

Nevada, once again, had one of the highest positivity rates for marijuana in 2020, with the northern midwest and Rocky Mountains area showing the lowest rates.

Ecstasy Positivity Rate Climbs

Positivity for MDMA/MDA 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine–usually referred to as ecstasy–is also on the rise, increasing 25% from 2019 to land at 0.01% positive in 2020. Yes, this is a small number, but ecstasy rates have slowly, yet steadily increased year after year and could become a larger issue if the trend continues.

Helpful Resources for Employers

The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends Workplace Prevention Basics as a resource for employers to learn about preventing substance abuse in the workplace. Find more information about Drug-Free Workplace Programs here

If you want to learn about simple, cost-effective employment drug testing solutions for your business, email us at


Dealing With Federal Laws: Figuring Out How To Drug Test Your Employees

[This is the third in a series of articles by Kim Wilbur, operations manager for a local company.  To view all of Kim’s blogs please visit the Blog Series:  Employee Drug Testing homepage.]

Federal Laws

Now that I want to start drug testing our employees what do I do?  Maybe the question is, “what do I HAVE to do?”  I thought I had better first find out what the laws and requirements are, so I started doing some research.  The federal laws that your business must adhere to will vary depending on the amount of employees you have on staff and the type of business you have.  See below for a brief summary of applicable laws and how they relate to creating a drug-free workplace policy.

Fifteen or More Employees

American with Disabilities Act of 1990

A federal law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination.   The importance of the ADA is to ensure that employers evaluate an individuals’ ability to do the required job tasks and that they make employment decisions based on an individual’s qualifications and performance not the person’s history of drug or alcohol abuse.  For more information see the Department of Labor’s ADA page.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

This landmark bill prohibits private employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of race, sex, religion, or nationality.  Employers are required to ensure that their drug free workplace policy and programs treat all workers equally and avoid singling out any particular racial, ethnic, or gender group for drug or alcohol testing or disciplinary action. _____________________________________________________________________________________

Fifty or More Employees

Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993

This act enables employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12 month period, due to a serious health problem or a substance abuse problem as long as they have worked for an employer for at least 1 year.   For more information see the Department of Labor’s FMLA page. _____________________________________________________________________________________

Unionized Industries

National Labor Relations Act

This act requires that a drug testing policy that affects union workers, must be negotiated and agreed upon with the union itself.  Even if the employer is mandated to have a policy because of the type of industry it is in, such as a transportation company, the employer must still work closely with the union to determine the specifics of the policy.  For more information see the National Labor Relations Board site here.

Federal Government Contractors and Grantees Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988

This requires Federal contractors and all Federal grantees to agree that they will provide drug-free workplaces as a condition of receiving a contract or grant from a Federal agency.   For more information see this page from the Department of Labor.

Transportation Industry The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991

States that any employee performing safety-sensitive transportation functions, including ones in the “aviation, trucking, railroads, mass transit, and pipelines industries” are required to be drug and alcohol tested.  Employee drug testing must be done pre- employment, in the event of reasonable suspicion, post-accident, return to duty and follow up, and at predetermined random rates.  For more information see the Department of Transportation’s page.

Department of Defense

All contractors working for the Department of Defense who have access to classified information must create, maintain and enforce a drug free work place policy.  The policies must be consistent with state laws and be agreed to by any relevant labor union.  For more information see this official PDF from the military.

Other Federal Safety Sensitive Organizations

Other organizations that have similar drug testing policies to the US Department of Defense are the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  More information about their policies can be found on each agency’s Web site or in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Again these are basic overviews of the Federal laws that may apply to your business.  To ensure that you are following the appropriate laws and regulations for your business so that you can avoid fines or being sued, you should consult a lawyer.

We hope this helped and that you found it interesting!  Stay tuned for our next installment!

$$$$$ or $? The Cost Saving Potential of Drug Testing

[This is an article by Kim Wilbur, operations manager for a local company.  Kim’s first entry can be read here – “Why Employee Drug Test?  A True Story.”]

A drug free workplace is the safest and most cost-effective.

As mentioned previously, I never thought about drug testing our employees. With such a small staff and no history of issues like the ones with Miss Perfect, it never crossed my mind. But after all of the time spent interviewing and training her, not to mention the financial expense and frustration of dealing with a drug user, I wish we would have spent the few dollars to drug test her before she was hired and before things got out of hand. Would pre-employment drug testing have prevented the frustration and expense? Seemingly so……But you know what they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

If you haven’t had a personal experience similar to mine perhaps reading the below will convince you that drug testing is still a very good idea for your business.

Based on the below findings from Congress, The Drug Free Workplace Act of 1998 was established:

1. 74% of illegal drug users are actually employed.

Again I admit, when I used to think of drug users I pictured people living on the streets, begging for money to get their next fix. This statistic obviously proves otherwise; a majority of drug users hold regular jobs and get regular paychecks. I guess the reality is that drugs aren’t cheap, especially when you’re dependent on them, so a job is necessary to be able to support the habit.

2. Over 50% of the Nation’s workforce is employed by small businesses.

Small businesses, be on the lookout! You can be severely impacted by employing even one drug abusing employee. Unlike larger organizations and corporations, small businesses are not as likely to have drug free policies in place so drug users may specifically seek employment with you. If you haven’t decided already that a drug free workplace policy is a good idea, this should really convince you to put employee drug testing into effect.

3. Illegal drug users and alcohol abusers affect businesses because:

a. they are absent more (66% more)
b. their usage of health benefits is 300% higher
c. there are more workplace accidents – 47% are drug related
d. corrective action in the workplace is 90% higher among drug users
e. they don’t stay – drug users are more likely to quit or get fired from their job.

Ouch, do you really want to hire someone that is not dependable, is a danger to coworkers and his or herself, will cause you more work and headaches and will actually cost you money in the end? I think not.

According to a SAMHSA survey reviewing 2002-2003 employee drug abuse, it costs on average, $2,456 to recruit and fill a standard job position. Depending on your state laws and which types of tests can be administered, drug tests can be purchased from a few dollars for a drug screen up to $100 for a lab test. WOW, which would you prefer to spend, a couple dollars or a couple thousand? And by having a drug free workplace policy in effect, pre employment drug testing will generate even more substantial savings in money, time and productivity further down the line.

Marijuana Presents A Problem for NFL This Year

Remember Ricky Williams?  The former college football superstar has spent much of his pro-career dealing with the consequences of failed drug tests, which by his own admission were partially responsible for his brief early retirement and have caused controversy throughout his career.  With a lot of his past behind him, Williams is successful again playing for the Miami Dolphins.  As NFL coaches and scouts are finding though, his drug use (marijuana) is by no means limited to him or other players.

As Don Banks covers over at Sports Illustrated’s website (, some head coaches are now describing marijuana use among potential draft picks as an “epidemic.”  Beyond the legality of smoking marijuana, possible drug use is a huge issue for teams in the NFL.  Do you pass on a superstar like Percy Harvin because of a failed marijuana drug test?  And if you don’t, how do you deal with the controversy, bad press, fines, suspensions and possible jail sentence that comes with an athlete that fails a drug test?

Coaches seem to be investigating drug issues player by player, especially if the drug in question is marijuana – harder drugs do not receive such a level of tolerance.  Imagine if you are on the verge of a possible contract in the millions with a professional football team – and this is what you must worry about.  It’s a pretty scary thought.  Ricky Williams is a pretty great football player, but his journey to playing in the NFL on Sundays again was a lot harder than it had to be.

Hair Drug Testing – Police Are Subject To It Too

You may be used to the idea of police conducting drug testing, and alcohol testing as well.  But did you ever think about the fact that police are drug tested too?  As in many other professions, especially those that are safety related (and police work certainly is that), police departments can test their workers.

This news article (ABC News: Police To Be Drug Tested Under New Laws) from ABC News, an Australian outlet, details the initiative to bring drug testing into standard police HR procedures.  It might surprise you that such procedures were not standard operating protocol to begin with.  After all, police have to operate cars at high speed and sometimes negotiate very careful situations.  It seems like a logical fit, but an argument can also be made that the police deserve our trust.

In any case, South Australia is intended to introduce mandatory testing for officers – and testing could be blood, urine, or hair.  I think this says at least two things, one about the hair drug test – it must be pretty accurate if it’s going to be used in such an official capacity!  And it is indeed very accurate.  Secondly, about the South Australian police – if they use hair, you know they care, because that type of testing offers an up to 90 day drug use history.  So that way you know the people on the job are not habitual drug users.  Urine drug testing can tell you if they are high at the moment, which is good, but hair drug testing allows you to find out if your employee is stable enough – can and did they go without drug use for a long period?  Is this person really drug free, or are they just clean for this test?

These are questions you can ask yourself in your own home as well.  There are a number of options when it comes to the hair follicle drug test.  But they all give you the unique power to ask and answer these types of questions.

So what do you think – should police be drug tested?  More or less frequently than other professions?  Or should they be exempt?  Drug testing is as always interesting and thought-provoking.

Why You Should Alcohol Test Your Employees

It has been estimated that about 70 percent of substance abusers hold jobs. This includes the 18 million alcohol abusers that have been estimated in the United States. Coming to work under the influence of alcohol can cause various concerns and issues. Among them are risks of an accident, reduced productivity, higher levels of health insurance costs and therefore lesser profits and unsafe conditions for everyone.

An alcohol test can help in finding out those who have been abusing alcohol or have come to work under the influence. It has been seen that alcohol abusers like other substance users are more prone to miss work and are also at a much higher risk of being involved in a job accident. This risk obviously is far greater in jobs that require extremely high levels of concentration.

Workplaces that require physical work like driving or managing large equipment, in other words any work that requires the reflexes to be at their best, can benefit from on-site alcohol testing. Since alcohol consumption causes blurred vision and coordination issues, these tasks become difficult for those under the influence. Transportation companies, construction companies, factories, heavy equipment handling companies and others should definitely include alcohol testing as a regular practice to ensure job safety.

Not only are alcohol tests necessary for the job safety of the employees, they also keep the employers away from complicated law suits that tend to follow incidents. It may not be practical to have a laboratory come in and conduct testing every now and then, but the breath analyzer alcohol test is an extremely convenient and accurate one that can get around this problem and literally be used every day.

Educational institutions are also using the alcohol test to ensure that there are no students that come to the campus under the influence of alcohol. This is a necessary measure that is being taken to ensure that proper discipline is maintained in the premises of the school. Hooliganism and unacceptable behavior can be avoided by using the 0.02 percent breath alcohol test.  As a matter of fact, the University of Minnesota, for example, requires season-ticket holding students guilty of previous alcohol offenses to take an alcohol test before they enter the stadium (see the full article at the blog Alcohol Testing).

Small businesses that cannot afford to hire a laboratory for these alcohol tests on a regular basis can ensure that their workplace is devoid of alcoholics. While those with desk jobs may not be at such a high risk of accidents on the job, the short term effects of alcohol can lead to low productivity and bad judgment. Alcohol induced fatigue, insomnia and lack of judgment and false confidence can cause some really wrong decisions to be made.

The home alcohol test is also something that educational institutions and corporate offices can use to ensure that the employees are clean and not under the influence of alcohol when they report. These alcohol tests are simple and can give results in a matter of seconds.

The 0.02 percent breath analyzer is a great piece of zero-tolerance equipment that can detect alcohol that has been consumed in the past hours. It is also a convenient thing to use to decide whether it is safe to drive or not rather than calculating the number and type of drinks consumed before getting behind the wheel.

Such alcohol tests not only provide a great way to pick out alcohol abuse at the workplace, they are a significant help in deterring teenagers from indulging in alcohol too.

– Anne Hamilton