Substance Use on the Rise: Drug Testing in the Workplace

A man talking with his doctor who is taking notes
With drug use on the rise, it’s important to revisit your drug test practices, as well as any employee support programs you offer.

Key points about drug testing in the workplace:

  • Pandemic-related stress has contributed to the increase in positive drug test results.
  • Drug testing can help you keep your workplace safe.
  • There are various types of drug tests, including pre-employment, for-cause, and random tests. The test(s) you use will depend on your unique business.

In recent years, more employees have tested positive for drug use, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend. With drug use on the rise, it’s important to revisit your drug test practices, as well as any employee support programs you offer.

Factors Contributing to Drug Use

Several factors have contributed to the rise in substance use. First is the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use in some states. In fact, marijuana is the most commonly detected substance in drug tests (even in states where it’s still illegal). 

However, drug positivity rates are going up across the board. An analysis by Quest Diagnostics found that 5.3% of the general workforce tested positive for illegal drugs in 2020. Only 5.1% tested positive in 2018. 

The pandemic has only exacerbated these existing conditions. With so much uncertainty and instability in the world, some people turned to drugs to help them cope. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 13% of Americans started or increased substance use to manage emotions connected to COVID-19. This increase in first-time and recurring drug use could affect employee health and the safety of your workplace.

How Increased Drug Use Affects the Workplace

In 2020, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that:

  • Drug deaths increased 13% in the first few months of 2020 alone
  • 49% of workers say they are coping with some level of addiction
  • 19% of workers report a minimum of weekly substance usage
  • 10% of workers report abusing prescription medication
  • 36% of workers admit to substance abuse affecting their work since the pandemic began
  • 57% of workers say they’ve lost 10-plus hours per week due to substance abuse

With marijuana legalization, the pandemic, and other contributing factors, it’s likely that the number of positive drug test results will continue to grow.

Why You Should Consider Drug Testing in the Workplace

Substance use is more common in some industries than others. For example, the retail industry has the highest rate of positive drug tests. However, every business, regardless of industry, should consider drug testing. After all, substance use can cost workplaces $82 billion worth of productivity each year. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), employees who use substances are also more likely to:

  • Be late to or absent from work
  • Change jobs frequently
  • Be less productive
  • Be involved in a workplace accident and potentially harm others
  • File a workers’ compensation claim

In contrast, workplaces with drug testing or drug-free programs are more likely to:

  • Improve morale and productivity
  • Decrease absenteeism, accidents, downtime, turnover, and theft
  • See better health statuses among employees and family members
  • Have reduced healthcare costs
  • Eliminate safety risks and negligent hiring claims

Types of Workplace Drug Tests

Drug testing, when combined with other drug prevention programs, can help you keep your business safe. What you choose to implement will depend on your specific business and industry. Some common tests include:

Pre-employment drug tests

You use these tests to screen candidates for drug use before offering them a job. If a candidate fails their pre-employment drug test, you probably will not hire them.

For-cause and reasonable suspicion drug tests

You use these tests when you have reasonable belief that an employee is using drugs. If you decide to use this type of test, be sure to stay consistent. Establish consequences for positive test results and consider implementing return-to-duty and follow-up testing.

Random drug tests

Like the name suggests, you administer these tests to random employees at random intervals. You can work with a third-party provider to randomly select employees. These screens help you continuously monitor drug use in your workplace.

No matter what type of drug tests you use, don’t forget to stay compliant with any relevant Federal, state, and local legislation. Click here to learn more about the legal requirements related to drug testing in the workplace.

The Real Purpose of Drug Testing in the Workplace

Remember: the purpose of drug testing isn’t to shame or discredit someone. The purpose is to keep your employees and customers safe from harm. Kindness can go a long way in keeping your workplace safe and helping employees who may be struggling.

If your employees test positive for drug use, there are various ways you can offer support. You can give employees access to:

Drug Testing with an HRIS

If you want to implement drug testing in your workplace, SentricHR can help. As an all-in-one HRIS, you can manage onboarding, payroll, benefits, and everything HR in one system. Thanks to our integration with Verified First, you can even request drug tests for candidates and new hires directly within SentricHR.

To learn more about our talent management software and how we make drug testing easy, speak with one of our product experts!

If you’d like to read more about the increase in positive drug test results, check out Verified First’s blog post.


The Sentric Team

The Sentric Team

At Sentric, we help businesses make people management easier with industry-leading technology and standout support.

Sentric HR & Payroll Insights

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