New Study Confirms Marijuana Use Up Drastically in Workforce

Cully Stimson / @cullystimson / October 12, 2016 / comments

This November, there are a record number of ballot initiatives in at least nine states regarding so-called medical marijuana or outright legalization of the Schedule I drug. The pot pushers, both small businesses and large, want more people smoking, eating, and consuming more pot because it is good for their bottom line.

Before voting yes, voters—and, in particular, employers—should take a look at more disturbing data that was released two weeks ago at a national conference.

At the annual Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association conference, Quest Diagnostics—one of the nation’s largest drug-testing companies—unveiled the results of its Drug Testing Index. The index examines illicit drug use by workers in America each year.

In 2015, Quest examined more than 9.5 million urine, 900,000 oral fluid, and 200,000 hair drug samples. Following years of decline in overall illegal drug usage, the results showed that the percentage of employees testing positive for illicit drugs has steadily increased over the last three years to a 10-year high.

The Drug Testing Index is an analysis of test results from three categories of workers—including federally mandated, safety-sensitive workers, the general workforce, and the combined U.S. workforce

Oral fluid drug testing results—best at detecting recent drug usage—showed an overall positivity rate increase of 47 percent over the last three years in the general workforce to 9.1 percent in 2015 from 6.7 percent in 2013.

According to Quest, the increase was “largely driven by double-digit increases in marijuana positivity.” In fact, according to the report, in 2015 there was a “25 percent relative increase in marijuana detection as compared to 2014.” The report also showed a significant increase in heroin positivity in urine tests for federally mandated safety-sensitive employees.

Another disturbing trend is the rising positivity rate for post-accident urine drug testing in both the general U.S. and the federal mandated, safety-sensitive workforces. According to the index, post-accident positivity increased 6.2 percent in 2015, compared to 2014, and increased a whopping 30 percent since 2011.

To those of us who have warned about the growing liberalization of the use of marijuana, from so-called “medical marijuana” to recreational abuse of the Schedule I drug, the results of the index are all too predictable.

It is also not surprising that none of the major organizations that push for pot legalization and decriminalization of marijuana have written major stories about the Quest Diagnostics report.

The more people use marijuana, the more likely it is that those who work and are subject to testing will pop positive for marijuana, even in safety-sensitive jobs. Think about that next time you hop on an airplane, ride Amtrak, or go about your daily life thinking everyone is focused on their job and your safety.

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As marijuana attitudes ease, workplace drug testing companies brace for fight

July 12, 2015 12:00 AM

Jeff Fox, of Finleyville, Pa., signs off after his drug testing with Kelly Wilhelm at a construction site in the Uptown section of Pittsburgh. Fox is a carpenter with Easley & Rivers Construction of Monroeville. Wilhelm is with Mobile Medical Corp., a Bethel Park drug-testing company.

 

By Daniel Moore / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As attitudes toward marijuana become more lenient and states authorize its use for medicinal — or even recreational — purposes, a long simmering debate over the efficacy of workplace drug testing has found a new flash point.

Marijuana accounts for more failed workplace drug tests than any other substance, and the new laws have the potential of decreasing or eliminating employer testing for it.

Defenders of drug testing maintain that employees who use drugs, including marijuana, have been found to miss more work, cause more accidents, change jobs more frequently and ultimately cost employers more money.

Many of those defenders happen to be part of the drug test industry, comprising large diagnostic laboratories and smaller third-party companies, which has mobilized to oppose the wave of legislation and litigation that it expects to rise from the conflict between workplace policies and changes in laws.

But voters in four states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize recreational marijuana, and nearly half of states allow it for medical treatment. This month, Oregon’s recreational pot laws went into effect.

 

Employers typically give drug tests as part of the hiring process, immediately after a workplace accident or at random times. “No single drug test is going to detect all use,” acknowledged Dr. Barry Sample, director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions.

A Pennsylvania bill that would allow medical marijuana use has passed the state Senate and is under debate in the House. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has signaled support, and a Quinnipiac poll in March showed six out of of seven registered voters in Pennsylvania support it.

“No one is following the marijuana issue more closely,” according to the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association’s website. The association has assembled pamphlets to assist businesses in defending their drug testing programs, complete with talking points that bust “the top 10 marijuana myths.”

It has also aggregated all U.S. state bills attempting to change marijuana’s legal status and is soliciting donations to fund its own research to help businesses understand the risk of abandoning drug testing programs.

The association’s Executive Director Laura Shelton tells business clients to follow federal regulations, which list marijuana as a Schedule I drug — an illegal substance with no acceptable medical use in treatment and a high potential for abuse.

“Our advice at that if you want to maintain a safe and drug-free workplace, test for those drugs” outlawed under federal regulations, Ms. Shelton said.

Effectiveness debated

Experts and researchers have disagreed on the effectiveness of drug testing since the 1980s, when it began in earnest after President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, signed an executive order requiring it for federal employees. A separate U.S. Department of Transportation rule shortly thereafter added certain safety-sensitive jobs, such as truck drivers, railroad operators, pilots and pipeline workers.

The standard test collected urine samples and flagged those that showed use of any one of five drugs: marijuana; cocaine; amphetamines and methamphetamines; opiates; and phencyclidine or PCP.

Private sector employers outside of those requirements soon followed suit. In a 1987 survey, the American Management Association found 21 percent of major U.S. firms had testing programs. By 1996, that had risen to 81 percent.

In 2014, one of the largest clinical laboratories, New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics, tested 9.1 million urine samples — 6.6 million for employers who chose to institute drug testing programs. That compares with 7.6 million tests in 2013, with 5.6 million from workplaces who instituted drug testing policies.

It is difficult to tie drug testing numbers directly to employers’ appetites for such services because the number of tests given is most dependent on hiring trends; the more people that businesses are hiring, the more drug tests are typically done.

The number of failed drug tests has fallen nearly every year from a rate of 13.6 percent in 1988 to 3.9 percent in 2014, according to Quest. Most of that decline happened in the early years of drug testing; in the past decade, the rate has stayed mostly flat.

Barry Sample, director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, said the fact that federal data shows that workplaces without testing programs have seen a bigger increase in current drug users confirms the deterrent effect.

That “really reinforces for those employers why they should continue to remain vigilant and not relax,” he said.

Dave Daquelente, director of labor management & operations at Mobile Medical Corp., a Bethel Park drug testing service, said Pittsburgh-area businesses are demanding the tests more than ever and asking for expanded tests for opiates and amphetamines to counter a trend of prescription drug abuse involving substances such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.

But privacy groups have questioned whether businesses are realizing the promised results.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized much of the data the drug testing industry has cited, instead backing a 1994 National Academy of Sciences study that found no evidence that marijuana use was any more of a workplace detriment than alcohol.

Michael Frone, senior research scientist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said there has been no credible evidence that testing programs deter workers from using drugs. Rather, heavy drugs users may go to workplaces without testing programs and others may simply use less frequently to avoid detection.

Mr. Frone, who wrote the 2013 book “Alcohol and Illicit Drug Use in the Workforce and Workplace,” also said little research has directly assessed the effect of testing programs on productivity and attendance. Even if employees fail a test, he added, it doesn’t prove that they were unproductive on the job.

“A positive drug test provides no information on when an illicit substance was used, how often or how much is typically used or if the person was or has ever been impaired at work,” he said.

Legal Confusion

Drug testing’s supporters and critics both agree that changing marijuana policies pose a threat to the practice.

“For an employer who has facilities in several different states, it makes it difficult to have a uniform policy when you have multiple state with different laws,” said Clare Gallagher, a labor and employment partner at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, a Downtown firm that last November created a regulated substances practice group.

Mr. Daquelente said business clients of Mobile Medical Corp., particularly those spread across the country, are confused.

“They’ve had real concerns about their employees who may visit somebody or go to work in Colorado and Washington,” he said. “What happens if someone goes away for the weekend and smokes marijuana and comes back to the job site Monday morning?”

Under Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana bill now being considered, employers would not be allowed to fire employees who are using marijuana off work hours and with a valid doctor’s recommendation. Employers would retain the right to fire marijuana patients if they are intoxicated on the job.

Robert DuPont, president of Rockville, Md.-based Institute for Behavior and Health Inc., thinks the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately have to reconcile the disagreement between state and federal laws.

“There’s a conflict issue around privacy and productivity and concern about worker’s health,” Mr. DuPont, who was a director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the 1970s.

Policy analysts and lawyers said, at least in the short-term, employers can expect the courts to rule in favor of federal law. Last month, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that Dish Network, as a private employer, had the right to fire an employee for failing a drug test, despite that employee’s legal right to use the drug in that state.

A hiring hurdle?

In Pennsylvania workplaces that have federally regulated jobs, such as manufacturing plants and energy production, some employers have said they struggle to find enough applicants who can pass drug tests.

A survey last year commissioned by the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Association found as many as a third of all applicants either fail drug tests or fail to show up for them. “The fact that 19 percent refuse to take drug tests as a condition of employment and 16 percent fail these tests raises a red flag,” it read.

“It’s a problem. It’s a real thing,” David Taylor, president of the manufacturer’s association, said. “It’s a great source of frustration.”

Unemployment advocates have denied that there is a hiring issue.

“You know, it’s funny how much I don’t hear about this anymore,” said Tim Styer, jobs developer for the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. “I think people out there looking for work, they clean their stuff up as much as they can.”

Daniel Moore: [email protected], 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.

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Thailand steps up its dubious war on drugs

By Patrick Tibke Sep 15, 2014 11:21AM UTC

 

Authorities round up ‘addicts’ and place them in compulsory treatment centres

Last week, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, a joint task force of 250 army and police personnel descended on 18 neighbourhoods throughout Bangkok, as part of a door-to-door operation designed to round up the Thai capital’s drug users.

At 5am uniformed officers armed with M-16 rifles and urine testing kits blitzed residential areas, identifying potential ‘suspects’ purely on the basis of their age and appearance. Those unfortunate enough to be selected were goaded by police to confess to using recreational drugs, or else face a mandatory, on-the-spot pee test.

“Hundreds” of startled Thais were then made to decant their urine into little plastic capsules provided by the police: If the test was negative, then the urine would stay its natural colour and the ‘suspect’ would go free. But if the test was positive, then the urine would turn a dreaded purple, and the ‘suspect’ would be detained at a nearby police station.

By the end of the two-hour operation, 83 “drug addicts” and 22 “small-time dealers” had been arrested, according to a statement made by Police Major General Itipon Piriyapinyo. Itipon did not reveal the total number of people summoned for testing, but he lauded the search and arrest tactic as an efficient, humane and exemplary way of tackling Bangkok’s drug problem.

Speaking to the press later that day, Itipon described the operation as a “targeted” raid focussed on “places where there are teenagers gathering;” places where one might find “people suspected of taking drugs.” As quoted by Thai Rath, Itipon explained that the apprehended users will be dispatched separately to compulsory treatment centres in Central Thailand, where they are expected to spend at least one month in detention “reforming their minds and bodies,” after which they may “return to society as good people.” This, he believes, is both a medical and a humanitarian intervention from which all Thais can benefit. “If they don’t go to rehab,” he said of Tuesday’s detainees, “[then] they might be sent to court… but if they go voluntarily, they will be considered as patients.”

Itipon also revealed that Tuesday’s raid was merely a “test mission” for a wider anti-drugs crackdown, endorsed by the ruling junta, which will aim to put at least 900 Bangkok “drug addicts” into compulsory treatment centres. All this, presumably, in service of General Prayuth’s relentless efforts to restore “moral soundness” and “return happiness to Thai people.”

“Treated as patients, not criminals”
Last week’s raid, and Itipon’s subsequent comments, are symptomatic of the limbo stage in Thailand’s drug war, in which drug abuse is widely accepted to be a medical problem -rather than a criminal one -yet the persecution and stigmatisation of drug users continues unabated. In recent years Thailand has diverted hundreds of thousands of drug users away from criminal penitentiaries and into compulsory treatment centres, yet the growing perception of drug users as “patients” remains fundamentally at odds with existing laws that continue to criminalise drug consumption or possessing drugs for personal use.

Since 2002, when Thai lawmakers passed the Narcotics Rehabilitation Act, compulsory rehabilitation of all drug users has been a central aim of Thailand’s drug policy. Based on the principle that drug users should be “treated as patients, not criminals,” the Act established a new legal framework through which low-level drug offences could be spared prosecution in favour of rehab. In theory, this of course sounds rather progressive. But in practice, however, the Act has enabled drug users to be abused on two fronts: Firstly by law enforcement – who continue to harass and persecute; and secondly by the treatment centres – where drug users are effectively detained without criminal conviction, and denied professional medical care.

One of the greatest pitfalls of the Act itself, is that it makes no attempt to differentiate between varying degrees of drug use, (occasional, non-problematic, dependent etc.), meaning that every single drug offender unlucky enough to be brought before court – from a once-monthly cannabis smoker to a daily heroin injector – is liable to receive a compulsory treatment order. Inevitably, a great number of non-dependent drug users get needlessly caught up in the system, being forced to partake in pointless therapy at the taxpayers’ expense.

Neither the wording nor the implementation of the Narcotics Rehabilitation Act admits the possibility that a drug user might not be dependent, and might not – therefore – be in urgent need of rehabilitation. This is a convenient default position for anti-drugs crusaders like Itipon, who needn’t hesitate before summarily labelling 83 people as “drug addicts,” purely on the basis of a purple pee test. (A purple pee test – if anyone cares – does not even establish which illicit substance the ‘suspect’ has taken, to say nothing of dosage, frequency of use, or associated risk behaviours, etc.)

The reflexive pronouncement of all apprehended drug users as “addicts” clearly undermines concurrent efforts to treat drug users as “patients.” For medical professionals, international best practice dictates that one or more validated measures of drug dependence – such as the WHO Addiction Severity Index – should be applied to each individual patient before a diagnosis can be made. Addiction therapy, if required, should then be conducted in a way that is flexible and tailor-made to suit the needs of the individual, causing the least possible harm and suffering during treatment. For dependent opiate users, for example, this would include methadone maintenance therapy to alleviate painful withdrawal symptoms, en route to a total cessation of opiate use.

In contrast to international best practice, Thailand’s current anti-drugs regime allows for urine tests and law enforcement figures to do much of the diagnostic work, whilst a blanket form of ‘rehabilitation’ is performed at treatment centres en masse, with no regard to an individual patient’s needs. Worse still, centres are often run by religious organisations, charities or the armed forces – rather than qualified medical professionals – and genuinely dependent drug users are denied medication to counteract withdrawal symptoms. Most rehabilitation programs consist of daily group therapy exercises and military-style, boot camp activities, in which vulnerable “patients” are made to endure a rigorous physical exercise regime. Many detainees also report physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their treatment leaders, such as corporal punishment for breaking centre rules, or public shaming for resisting therapy.

Around 150,000 drug users are currently being ‘treated’ in Thailand’s compulsory rehab centres, yet despite the enormous scale of the project, its efficacy remains impossible to quantify. And this is largely due to the continued criminalisation of drug use. Successful patients who “return to society as good people,” to borrow Itipon’s phrasing, are expected to attend follow-up urine tests to prove their abstinence, but many former detainees disappear upon their release. Somewhat predictably, perhaps, those who continue to use drugs after their ‘rehabilitation’ program simply don’t bother to turn up to their scheduled pee test appointments, or, alternatively, they work around the pee tests so as to avoid getting caught twice.

It is little wonder, then, that the United Nations has called for an immediate end to the use of compulsory treatment centres, and a shift towards voluntary addiction therapy. I quote here form the Joint Statement of 2012, endorsed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime among others:

United Nations entities call on States to close compulsory drug detention centres and implement voluntary, evidence-informed and rights-based health and social services in the community… The deprivation of liberty without due process is an unacceptable violation of internationally recognised human rights standards. Furthermore, detention in these centres has been reported to involve physical and sexual violence, forced labour, sub-standard conditions, denial of health care, and other measures that violate human rights.

Ironically, under the rubric of the seemingly progressive Narcotics Rehabilitation Act, Thailand’s drug users are neither guaranteed the same rights as patients, nor subject to the same due process as criminals. They remain, precariously as ever, trapped in limbo somewhere in between.

Thai police continue to hunt down and apprehend drug users on criminal charges, only to have those charges summarily waived as soon as the offender comes face-to-face with a prosecutor. Then, having been spared the trauma of a criminal imprisonment, the offender is finally handed over to a treatment centre run by people with no expertise in medical care – “as patients, not criminals.”

The absurdity of this arrangement should elude no one.

If Thailand’s drug users are indeed patients, not criminals, then why not simply decriminalise all drugs and allow dependents to seek treatment on their own terms? It’s the next logical step…

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