For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the legalization of marijuana is at the heart of a nationwide increase in people using cannabis,[i] that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a significant increase in the abuse of drugs in general as people sought to self-medicate their way through the modern-day plague,[ii] and that many employers, too many in fact, used the pandemic’s negative impact on the labor market to justify either curtailing their drug testing programs, especially pre-employment screening, or discontinuing drug testing altogether.[iii]
If these assumptions are correct, and there is ample evidence that they are, what is the end result? What is the impact on the workplace of there being more drug users hired? Is there any way to know if a drop off in pre-employment drug testing is adversely affecting safety in the workplace?
Three major reports provide valuable insights. Thanks to Current Consulting Group’s 2022 Annual Employer Drug Testing Survey, the 2022 Annual Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index, and a special report from First Advantage published in October 2021, we can answer the above questions with a high degree of certainty.
Current Consulting Group
Each year, the Current Consulting Group conducts two major drug testing surveys: The Drug Testing Industry Survey, now in its 24th year, and the Employer Drug Testing Survey, now in its sixth year. These two surveys, when juxtaposed, give drug testing providers and employers a clear view of the most significant trends affecting drug testing as well as what to expect in the near future.
In the 2022 Employer Drug Testing Survey[iv], 87% of respondents said they conduct pre-employment testing and 70% said they conduct post-accident testing. Overall, 30% indicated they have experienced an overall increase in positive drug tests in 2022 compared to 2021.
Regarding pre-employment testing, 35% said they’ve seen an increase in applicants testing positive in 2022 while only 10% said pre-employment positives have gone down (46% said positives have remained the same).
By a slight margin, 16% compared to 12%, more respondents said they’ve seen an increase in positive drug test results among workers in safety-sensitive occupations vs. non-safety-sensitive positions.
Finally, when asked about the benefits of conducting drug testing, 83% said it helps improve safety in the workplace, the highest response, followed by being able to hire better quality employees at 62%. But to realize those benefits, a company has to remain committed to drug testing. Some employers may have waivered in that commitment since the start of the pandemic.
As one of the largest providers of employee screening services, including drug testing, First Advantage works with thousands of companies. Analyzing drug test results from their vast client base, the company identified two interesting trends, which were highlighted in a special report entitled “Pre-Employment Drug Screening Correlated to Lower Post-Accident Drug Screening Positivity”[v]:
- “Some customers facing open front-line positions and staffing shortages opted to pause their pre-employment drug screening programs to get candidates onboarded faster, and
- “… during this same period, nearly all industries saw an increase in positive results from post-accident drug testing.”
In other words, the drop in pre-employment drug testing meant companies were likely hiring more drug users. The increase in post-accident positive drug test results tells us these substance-abusing new hires were having a definite impact on workplace safety.
According to the report: “Based on this data… increased drug use in the past year may have played a role in the increased drug positivity rates, pre-employment drug screens—or the lack thereof—may also play a role in employee post-accident drug test positivity. Could pre-employment drug screening serve as a deterrent for drug use and set expectations that employees should be able to pass a drug test if needed? The data appeared to support this.”
According to the First Advantage report, the industries that saw the highest increases were:
- Transportation at 74%
- Education at 52%
- Restaurants at 40%
- Technology at 28%
- Healthcare at 28%
- Trucking at 24%
- Manufacturing at 24%
- Retail at 15%
Quoting from the report: “When post-accident drug positivity for clients who do pre-employment drug screening is compared to that of clients who do not, the rate of change is pronounced. Clients that performed pre-employment drug screening experienced a 17% increase in post-accident positivity rates from 2019 to 2020; meanwhile, clients that did not perform pre-employment drug screening saw their post-accident rates more than double from 2019 to 2020.”
Quest Drug Testing Index
But even among companies that did not necessarily discontinue pre-employment testing, the trend of increased post-accident positive drug tests is still evident in the 2022 Quest Diagnostic Drug Testing Index (DTI).
According to the DTI, “urine positivity rates for post-accident testing increased at a greater rate than pre-employment testing over five years, driven by higher positivity on post-accident tests for marijuana, cocaine, and semi-synthetic opiates.”
Furthermore: “Over the last five years in general U.S. workforce urine drug testing, pre-employment positivity increased 17.4% (4.6% in 2017 versus 5.4% in 2021); while post-accident positivity increased 26% (7.7% in 2017 versus 9.7% in 2021).
“Similarly, in federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce urine drug testing, pre-employment positivity increased 9.5% since 2017 (2.1% in 2017 versus 2.3% in 2021), while post-accident positivity increased 41.9% (3.1% in 2017 versus 4.4% in 2021). In 2021, the post-accident positivity as compared to pre-employment positivity was 79.6% higher (9.7% versus 5.4%) in the general US workforce and 91.3% higher (4.4% versus 2.3%) in the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce.”
From the official DTI report we read: “Employers are wrestling with significant recruitment and retention challenges as well as with maintaining safe and engaging work environments that foster positive mental and physical wellbeing,” said Keith Ward, General Manager and Vice President, Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. “Our Drug Testing Index data raises important questions about what it means to be an employer committed to employee health and safety. Eager to attract talent, employers may be tempted to lower their standards. In the process, they raise the specter of more drug-related impairment and worksite accidents that put other employees and the general public in harm’s way.”[vi]
Pre-employment drug testing is an effective tool in a company’s efforts to maintain a safe and productive workforce. It helps identify drug users who, despite knowing that they will have to pass a drug test before they can be hired, still show up for a job interview after having recently used drugs.
For companies that may be tempted to forego pre-employment testing in an attempt to make it easier to find people to hire, the question that must be answered is: “Are these really the type of employees you want to hire?” The increase in post-accident positive drug test results provides a clear and definitive answer.
[i] “Legalizing recreational cannabis increases its use, research shows.” CNN. August 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/29/health/recreational-cannabis-frequent-usage-wellness/index.html#:~:text=People%20in%20US%20states%20that,the%20journal%20Addiction%20has%20suggested.
[ii] “Substance use during the pandemic.” American Psychological Association. March 2021. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/03/substance-use-pandemic
[iii] The Impact of COVID-19 on Drug Testing. Occupational Health & Safety. March 2021. https://ohsonline.com/articles/2021/03/01/the-impact-of-covid19-on-drug-testing.aspx
[iv] “6th Annual Employer Drug Testing Survey.” Current Consulting Group. October 2022.
[v] “Pre-Employment Drug Screening Correlated to Lower Post-Accident Drug Screening Positivity.” First Advantage. October 2021. https://fadv.com/blog/when-employers-stopped-drug-testing-during-covid-19-post-accident-drug-positivity-soared/ For more information, contact First Advantage at https://fadv.com/solutions/pre-employment-drug-screening/
[vi] Workforce Drug Test Positivity Climbs to Highest Level in Two Decades, Finds Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index Analysis. Quest Diagnostics. https://newsroom.questdiagnostics.com/2022-03-30-Workforce-Drug-Test-Positivity-Climbs-to-Highest-Level-in-Two-Decades,-Finds-Quest-Diagnostics-Drug-Testing-Index-Analysis