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Study: employment tests show increase in prescription drugs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGood news for employers: a study conducted by Quest Diagnostics has shown that illegal drug usage has decreased among employees over the past several years. The bad news is that, alternatively, there has been a rise in prescription drug usage, whether or not the drug has actually been prescribed to a particular patient. Drug-testing laboratory Quest Diagnostics has been reviewing urine tests that were collected over the past 26 years. The study showed that in 1988, the percentage of employees who failed drug tests for using illegal drugs was 13.6 percent, whereas only 3.5 percent of drug tests turned up illegal substances in 2012. In addition to urine tests, labs are now able to test saliva and hair follicles, to reduce the chances of employees tampering with test substances. Meanwhile, prescription amphetamine, opiate and painkiller use has increased since 2002, with Vicodin’s usage increasing a whopping 172 percent, and other prescription usage increasing by 70 to 100 percent. While these prescriptions test positive on drug tests, it is not possible to tell just from the tests whether or not an employee is abusing the drug illegally, or if he or she has a valid prescription for the substance. Lab workers must go back through tests and mark them as negative if the employee has a current prescription for the medication. More than half of such tests are considered “false positives” due to being prescribed the medication. Of course, even if an employee is using a prescription legally, such as taking prescribed painkillers after a work accident, the presence of the drug in the employee’s bloodstream can still affect their ability to perform their jobs. Managers should be aware of their employees’ behavior, and make note of unusual activities, as some prescription drugs can cause dizziness, trouble operating motor vehicles, and other potentially dangerous behavior. The drug-testing waters are even muddier now that some states, such as Colorado, have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Marijuana use still turns up on drug tests, and some occupations prohibit its use even in states where it is legal, for the safety of citizens or other workers. Employers and courts will need to determine if and how to deal with employees who utilize marijuana recreationally, when workplace drug tests turn up positive.]]>

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