Employee drug use hits 12-year high: How you should respond

Drug useIllicit drug use by American workers is climbing fast, leading to a 12-year high in positive workplace drug tests, according to a Quest Diagnostics review of 10 million test results logged in 2016.

Overall, 4.2% of urine tests were positive for drugs, the highest positivity rate since 2004.

“This year’s findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug-test specimen types and in all testing populations,” said Barry Sample of Quest Diagnostics.

The biggest jump: Marijuana positivity in oral-fluid testing spiked 75% in the past three years (from 5.1% in 2013 to 8.9% in 2016). Cocaine positivity reached a seven-year high last year. And methamphetamine positivity in urine tests climbed 64% in the U.S. workforce.

Substance abuse policy

If you don’t have an employee policy on the use and abuse of illegal drugs, establish one and promote it.

Drug abuse policies vary depending on the particular nature of the work site. The key: Know what your goal is. Seek your attorney’s help when developing your policy.

The policy should be clearly written, posted, frequently communicated and uniformly enforced regardless of rank or position. It should set rules on the use and abuse of drugs, control procedures and discipline.

Drug testing

Now may be the time to start a drug-testing program. You’re safe to conduct tests in three situations: pre-employment (after a job offer), after a preventable accident and when you reasonably suspect someone is using illegal drugs.

Blood and urine analyses are the most common types of drug tests.

Use an outside laboratory that handles these tests. Ask labs about their quality-control procedures. What documentation do they keep in handling specimens to prevent any mix-ups? How long do they keep such records? The answers to these questions may prove vital if test results are ever used as evidence in court.

Again, involve your attorney in setting your drug-testing protocol.

Addressing specific situations

If you suspect an employee is on drugs, avoid suggesting medical help—it could open the door to a “perceived disability” claim (i.e., you regarded the worker as disabled and, thus, the person is due an accommodation).

Instead, remind workers about your employee assistance program. Many of your workers may not even be aware of the benefit.

How bad is the problem in your area? Go to www.dtidrugmap.com for a detailed map of drug-test positivity rates by state and ZIP code.