American Drug Use Is at Its Highest Since the Bush Era

We’re sure there’s no correlation here.

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May 18 2017, 7:23pm

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Illicit drug use among US workers is the highest it's been in 12 years, according to data released Tuesday by Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest drug-testing labs in the nation.

The annual analysis looked at more than 10 million drug test results from 2016 among both the general workforce and workers in safety-sensitive roles (bus drivers, airline pilots, etc) where drug testing is mandatory. Overall, 4.2 percent of people tested positive for substances like cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines. That's the highest it's been since back in 2004 when 4.5 percent of tests showed evidence of drug use.

Alabama and Oregon had the highest rates of drug use with 6.3 percent of drug tests yielding positive results, followed by Arkansas at 6 percent, and North Carolina and Vermont both at 5.7 percent. Hawaii had the lowest rates at just 2.7 percent.

Marijuana remains the top offender—not necessarily surprising as more states legalize recreational use of the drug; it's legal in Oregon. Weed was identified in 2.5 percent of all urine tests for the general workforce and in 0.78 percent for those in safety-sensitive jobs. In Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize pot outright, positivity rates outranked the national average for the first time at 2.9 and 3.08 percent, respectively. Rates of positive piss tests in those states grew by 11 and 9 percent versus 2015, compared to a 4 percent increase nationwide.

Cocaine use is on the rise for the fourth year in a row, increasing to 0.28 percent of urine tests in 2016 in the general workforce, up from 0.25 percent in 2015. It also rose among safety-sensitive workers—up to 0.28 percent from 0.26 percent in 2015. One unsettling stat: Positive tests for cocaine following work-related accidents were double the rates of pre-employment tests and higher than random drug tests. "While a positive test doesn't prove drug use caused the accident, it raises the question as to whether it played a role," said Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, in a press release. (What an apt last name.)

Following the trend, use of amphetamines and methamphetamines, continued to increase and Quest said over the last decade it's been primarily driven by prescription drugs like Adderall. Positive results were found in 1.1 percent of all urine tests, compared to 0.97 percent in 2015. And, yes, some positive test results can later be discarded with proof of a doctor's prescription.

But—and this is kind of reaching—there's a bit of good news here: After four years of steady increases, positive tests for heroin remained steady at 0.037 percent for the general workforce and decreased slightly among safety-sensitive workers. Meanwhile, positive results for prescription opioids (hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and the like) have been on a steady decline for the past four years, with oxycodone specifically dropping from 0.96 percent in 2012 to 0.69 percent in 2016, likely in response to state and federal efforts to address the opioid crisis by curbing opioid prescriptions. It appears the increasingly popular synthetic opioid fentanyl wasn't among the drug categories analyzed.

This isn't typically the norm: Positive tests for heroin and prescription opioids have been inversely linked in the past, with heroin use increasing when law-enforcement cracks down harder on illegal prescription opiates, according to the Wall Street Journal. More than 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015 so here's hoping positive heroin and opioid tests fall even further.

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