Current Drug Abuse Trends & Need for Drug Testing

The legalization of marijuana coupled with the devasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an overall increase in substance abuse, more positive drug tests in the workplace, and a rise in marijuana-related traffic accidents and fatalities.

The need for drug testing, particularly a rapid-result test that is easy to collect and can detect recent use, has never been more critical.

“We are seeing an increase in amphetamine positivity rates up 240 percent and opioid positivity rates up by more than 430 percent! The safety-sensitive industry has historically been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. As a result of this pandemic, both amphetamines and opioids have surpassed cocaine in random drug testing positivity rates.” – Bill Current, Current Consulting Group

The Need for Drug Testing
The ongoing increase in substance abuse, alone, would justify a company’s decision to conduct drug testing; however, there are many other valid reasons, including:
    • Drug abusers are less safe and more costly than their non-using co-workers. Reportedly, 65 percent of on-the-job accidents are due to drug and alcohol abuse.[i]Additionally, 38 to 50 percent of all workers’ compensation claims are related to drug and alcohol abuse.[ii]Workers with substance abuse disorders miss two more weeks annually than their peers, averaging nearly 25 days of missed work per year.[iii]Drug users are dangerous, expensive and result in $200 billion in lost productivity annually.[iv]
    • Drug users hate drug testing. In a survey conducted by the federal government, 40 percent of full-time workers who admitted to being current illicit drug users said they were less likely to work for a company that conducted random drug testing. Additionally, 30 percent said they were less likely to work for a company that conducted pre-employment drug testing.[v]
    • Employers are still legally responsible for what their employees do while on the job. The legalization of marijuana has not suspended negligent hiring and respondeat superior laws that hold employers legally liable for accidents, property damage, fatalities, theft, fraud and other bad acts caused by or committed by employees. If an employee is driving a vehicle to make a work-related delivery while high on marijuana, for example, and causes an accident, the employer will be legally responsible for property damages and any harm caused to others. Legal marijuana is no defense for the employer who could’ve known if an employee was a safety risk by conducting pre- and/or post-hire drug testing.
Why Oral Fluid Testing? With the need for drug testing greater than ever before, employers need the choice of a testing method that makes testing more convenient and user-friendly, especially in legal marijuana states. While lab-based urine testing used to be the only option available, it has never met all employer needs and this especially true in today’s more challenging and litigious workplace environment. Because of advances in the science and technology of oral fluid testing, especially as a point-of-collection (POCT), rapid-result test, employers have access to a viable alternative to urine testing that makes drug testing much more accessible and easier to conduct. Oral fluid testing is also endorsed by the federal government. In October 2019, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued guidelines for oral fluid testing, often referred to by the acronym OFMG, in federal workplaces. In doing so, SAMHSA listed several advantages of oral fluid testing that apply to rapid oral fluid testing, including fast, easy-to-conduct, 100-percent observed collections, virtual elimination of drug test cheating, and the ability to detect drug use within minutes after a drug has been absorbed into the body.
As one of only three drug testing methods endorsed by the federal government and the only legitimate recent-use detection method, oral fluid testing is beginning to increase its market share. Prior to the pandemic, most experts agreed that oral fluid testing probably represented about 8 percent of the drug testing market. However, as a result of the challenges employers experienced with urine collections during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are now strong indicators that oral fluid testing has increased its overall market share.

Midway through 2020, the Current Consulting Group (CCG) conducted a survey of drug testing providers in which 13 percent said they’d had clients switch to or add oral fluid testing since the start of the pandemic. In a CCG survey conducted at the end of 2020, the percentage of providers who said they’d had clients switch to or add oral fluid testing increased to 15 percent. When employers were asked the same question, 17.6 percent said they had either switched to or added oral fluid or were considering doing so.

For some companies, it may not come down to using just one drug testing method to the exclusion of all the others. However, for many companies, rapid-result oral fluid testing is an ideal match for pre-employment testing and it works well when employers must know immediately if someone had drugs in their system following an accident or when substance abuse is suspected.

Finally, another reason for the trend that is seeing oral fluid testing increase its market share is that rapid-result oral fluid testing is relatively easy to conduct anytime, anywhere, which can significantly impact the return on investment from drug testing in a very positive way. When collection times are reduced from 2-4 hours to less than 10 minutes with an on-site oral fluid test, the true cost of a drug test is demonstrably reduced.

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[i] National Survey on Drug Use and Health. SAMHSA. September 2020. 2019NSDUHFFR1PDFW090120.pdf [ii] LaNeve, Nicole. “Survey Shows Drug & Alcohol Use Increase During COVID-19 Pandemic.” The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab, The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab, 17 Dec. 2020, [iii] Murray, Krystina. “The Deadliest Year In Drug History.” Addiction Center. January 2021. [iv] “The COVID-19 Pandemic Leads to Surge in Drug Test Positivity Rates.” DISA. June 18, 2020. [v] Reilly, Joe. “Drug Testing & Safety: What’s the Connection?” Occupational Health & Safety, 1105 Media, Inc., 1 Sept. 2014, [vi] Id. [vii] “Implications of Drug Use for Employers.” National Safety Council, National Safety Council, [viii] Babcock, Pamela. “Former Drug Czar: Drugs in Workplace Understated Crisis.” SHRM, SHRM, 13 Nov. 2013, [ix] Why Drug Testing. William F. Current. Page 34.

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