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Drug Use in the Workplace Still at an All-Time High…and Climbing

Quest Diagnostics recently released some new numbers that show that workplace drug tests are continuing to find incredibly high numbers of those who are using drugs in the workplace. Levels as they are right now are higher than they have been in a decade. Last year, 4.2 percent of drug tests conducted in the workplace came back positive; this year, that number rose to 4.5 percent – the highest it has been since 2004.

Those who are required to undergo drug tests regularly, such as those working in federal positions, pilots, and bus drivers, came in at a rate of 2 percent. For the general workforce, however, where drug testing is not nearly as necessary or enforced, the rate was nearly 5 percent. Illicit drugs, unsurprisingly, made up most of the testing groups. These drugs included cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines.

It is not clear at the moment what these numbers say for the workforce collectively. Quest is only one drug testing company among several, and many employers – especially smaller businesses – do not test their employees or even potential employees for drug use. However, there is one nugget that can be taken away from this research, and that is the fact that people who aren't routinely drug tested on the job report using drugs at higher rates than those who are. This is especially true for those who self-report, with numbers coming in at 40-60 percent higher for those who are not routinely tested.

Despite the fact that this 4.2 percent number is relatively high, it still doesn't compare to the 13.6 percent that Quest had reported back when it issued its first report in 1988. One theory is that these increasing numbers reflect the fact that marijuana has been increasingly legalized throughout the country, for both recreational and medicinal purposes.

Marijuana is still a Schedule I substance, which groups it among the most dangerous of the drugs out there, but companies are adapting to its increased legality. For instance, companies in Colorado are removing marijuana from their drug tests altogether. Marijuana has been legal in the state of Colorado for the past five years.

Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. The reason Schedule I drugs are considered to be so dangerous is because they are associated with a high level of potential abuse. The punishments associated for possessing and selling Schedule I drugs vary depending on the state. For instance, some states punish offenders with a fine ranging between $500 to $1,000, some states throw the offender in prison, and some states will levy both punishments. It also depends on whether or not the offender has a history of possessing or selling, which can earn him even steeper punishments.

Some states also enforce what are known as "enhanced punishments." Enhanced punishments are handed down if drugs are sold to minors, if minors were used as distributors of the drug, or if the drugs were sold near a school zone or another protected area.