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February 03, 2003
Workplace Drug Use Rose in 2000
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Aug. 1, 2001


A steady, decade-long decline in workplace drug use has ended, a provider of employer drug-testing services reports.

Quest Diagnostics reports that its semi-annual Drug Testing Index shows drug use in the U.S. went up in 2000.

From 1988, when the survey began, through the end of 1999, Quest reported annual drops in its "positivity rate" - the proportion of positive test results in all drug tests performed by the company. During that period, the rate went from 13.6 percent to 4.6 percent.

But during 2000, the overall positivity rate increased slightly to 4.7 percent.

All of the increase in positivity occurred in the general U.S. workforce, which excludes safety-sensitive workers, such as pilots, bus and truck drivers and workers in nuclear power plants, for whom routine drug testing is mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The positivity rate among the safety-sensitive workers continued to decline in 2000 to 3.1 percent from 3.2 percent in 1999. The positivity rate for the general workforce increased from 4.8 percent to 4.9 percent.

"In the 13 years that we have been measuring drug use in the workplace, this is the first time we have seen an increase in the rate of positivity," said R.H. Barry Sample, Ph.D., director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics' Corporate Health and Wellness division. "This appears to be due to an increase in drug use among current general workforce employees, mainly among employees who are subject to random on-the-job drug testing."

The Drug Testing Index summarizes the results of workplace drug tests performed between January and December, 2000 by Quest Diagnostics. The Drug Testing Index looks at positivity rates among three major testing populations: federally mandated, safety-sensitive workers; the general workforce; and the combined U.S. workforce.

The positivity rate for the general workforce increased even more sharply in three key segments of on-the-job drug testing: "for cause," which indicates reasonable suspicion; "post-accident"; and "random drug testing." For these three categories, the rate of positivity in the general workforce went up 9.1 percent. In contrast, the rate of positivity for these three categories declined 4.3 percent for federally-mandated, safety sensitive drug tests.

The incidence of cheating on drug tests declined during 2000, decreasing 52 percent from 1999, according to the Drug Testing Index. Cheating on drug tests can involve the use of masking agents, or chemicals that are added to drug testing specimens in an attempt to defeat the process of detecting drug use. These agents include oxidizing adulterants, which include nitrites, as well as bleach and pyridinium chlorochromate. Cheating can also involve the use of "substituted" or "invalid" samples.
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