Drug use at work hit all-time low in 2006

Vigilance by occ health nurses, employers credited

Drug use among workers in the United States hit a new low in 2006, in part because employers and employee health managers are so vigilant, according to annual data posted by a leading employment-related drug testing service.

The Quest Diagnostics annual Drug Testing Index shows that positive test results for amphetamine and methamphetamine fell 20% from 2005 to 2006 among federally mandated safety-sensitive workers. This is a category that includes pilots, bus and truck drivers, and workers in nuclear power plants for whom routine drug testing is mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (For information on how to order the Drug Testing Index, see resource information at the end of article.)

Positive findings for marijuana and amphetamine use among the general U.S. workforce fell, as well. The 2006 Drug Testing Index summarizes the results of more than nine million workplace drug tests.

Since the Lyndhurst, NJ-based Quest Diagnostics began performing workplace urine drug screens in 1988, the overall positive result rate has fallen from 13.6% in 1988 to 3.8% in 2006. The continued decline in positive workforce drug screens may be driven by two factors: increased employer vigilance, and workers who use drugs intentionally avoiding employment at companies that actively screen for drugs, says Barry Sample, PhD, director of science and technology for Quest's Employer Solutions division.

One of the focus areas for occupational and environmental health nurses for some time has been bringing attention to the hazards of workplace drug and alcohol use, says Susan Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, president of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN). "Substance abuse at work, both drugs and alcohol, is certainly on the minds of employers, and that includes drug use at work and drug use at home that might cause a worker to come to work under the influence," says Randolph.

Safety issues arise not only for the employer using drugs, but for the coworkers of the employee and people he or she encounters at work. "They aren't as productive and can cause accidents for themselves and their co-workers," Randolph points out.

The occupational health nurse's involvement in drug testing can occur in several ways, whether it's collecting urine samples at hire, conducting random screens of existing employees, or in arranging off-site drug testing for an employee who is suspected of being impaired. "Some companies may have policies for testing for cause — if an accident occurs or a supervisor or coworker notices behavior or symptoms, the nurse may be involved in doing an assessment of that worker, evaluating what the supervisor is seeing, whether the employee's pupils are dilated or if he is not walking steadily," she explains.

Education is a factor in declining workplace drug use, Randolph adds. Whether it's intervening to educate an employee about the dangers of drug use or training a supervisor on what to look for when impairment is suspected, the occupational health nurses is a key component to a company's drug-free environment."

Also, nurses have a very important role if there is a no-tolerance policy, in getting to that person who is using, getting them help through the [employee assistance program], and saying to them, 'We value you and we value your work here, so you need to get help and because there is a no-tolerance policy, you have to go through this assistance program,'" she says. "Then, that is usually followed up by some monitoring by the nurse."

The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) presented by the Department of Health and Human Services found that individuals whose employers do not have a drug testing program reported a nearly 50% higher incidence of illicit drug use, compared to those with drug testing programs: 7.1% compared to 10.5%.


The Drug Testing Index is available free of charge from Quest Diagnostics, Lyndhurst, NJ. Web: www.questdiagnostics.com. On the left side of the screen, click on "Employer Solutions," then from the Drug and Alcohol Testing pull-down menu, select "Drug Testing Index."

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2005, can be downloaded free of charge from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. Go to nsduhweb.rti.org and click on "Latest survey results," located on the left side of the screen.