According to data analyzed by Quest Diagnostics for its Drug Testing Index (DTI), the nation’s leading provider of workplace drug testing, positive tests for amphetamines like Adderall have more than doubled since 2002, while positive tests for opioid drugs Vicodin and Oxycontin have risen 172% and 71%, respectively, since 2005.

Meanwhile, positive tests for cannabis in the DTI have fallen in the past few years to the lowest levels ever recorded, with just 2% of all drug tests indicating cannabis use, a reduction by almost half since 2002.  Overall drug test positives have declined from over 10% to about 4% nationwide, with over 43% of all positive drug tests attributable to marijuana.

Fewer failed marijuana drug tests might indicate that workers are using marijuana less, but federal surveys do not seem to bear that out.  The National Survey on Drug Use & Health found in 2002 that 48.6% of people employed full time had never used marijuana, a number that is unchanged in the latest (2011) survey.  Considering only past-month use, there are slightly more full-time and part-time employees regularly toking now when the positive drug test rate is 2% than in 2002 when the rate was a hair below 3%.

If toking habits haven’t changed much then drug test taking must have.  Experts hypothesize that workers have become more adept at beating drug testing, whether it is through the use of masking agents, synthetic urine, or simply detoxifying before the test.  Unfortunately, testing has also led to the emergence of the so-called “synthetic pot” that isn’t often tested for, incentivizing pot smokers to try these untested, potent drugs to beat their test.  The results have been an increasing number of tokers headed to emergency rooms, unable to adequately moderate their use of these powerful synthetic cannabinoids.

The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA), the powerful lobby represents over 1,200 companies and fights efforts to legalize marijuana, believes growing acceptance of marijuana (as they put it, “medical marijuana” in sarcasm quotes,) presents a danger in the workplace.  “Marijuana still impairs a user's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle or stay awake on the job,” claims their seminar materials for “The Marijuana Dilemma and What Employers Can Do About It.”

So, wouldn’t that danger apply in spades to workplace users of powerful opioids and amphetamines?  The director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, Dr. Barry Sample (yes, really), explains, "Our data shows that an increasing number of workers are testing positive for certain prescription drugs, such as opiates and stimulants… Even when used under prescription, these drugs can have an impact on workplace safety.”

But according to The Wall Street Journal, “Independent studies suggest that 65% to 80% of positive tests for amphetamine and opiate use ultimately are disregarded because the user has a valid prescription for the drug.”  When about four out of five people failing drug tests for Oxycontin get to keep their jobs thanks to a doctor’s note, hardly anybody failing a drug test for cannabis keeps their job, even in the medical marijuana states.  And color us unimpressed by appeals to workplace and user safety when the FDA has just approved the prescription of an easily-abused version of Vicodin that is ten times as potent.
--ЯR

"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show, which airs live at 3pm Pacific.