Michigan Sees Spike in Failed Workplace Drug Tests Amid Cannabis Legalization

May 24th, 2024 Safety & Education
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Among various drug categories—including cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates—6.8% of employment-related drug tests in Michigan returned positive results last year, according to Quest Diagnostics, the nation's largest drug testing lab. This rate significantly surpasses the national average of 4.6%.

The surge in Michigan's positivity rate is largely attributed to an increase in cannabis use. Positive results for cannabis in employer-required drug tests have risen from 1.9% in 2008, when medical cannabis was legalized, to 3.3% in 2018, coinciding with the legalization of recreational cannabis, and reaching 5.8% in 2023. Quest Diagnostics did not disclose the number of drug tests conducted in Michigan or the sample size included in their analysis.

Nationally, the average positivity rate for cannabis in workplace drug tests is 4.7%, based on data from 9.8 million tests conducted last year.

Despite the rising positivity rates, fewer employers are treating a positive cannabis test as a barrier to employment, especially given its legal status in Michigan. For instance, the state ceased drug testing for most state government positions, encompassing around 54,000 full-time roles, as of October 1 last year.

However, Michigan's status as a manufacturing hub means safety-critical jobs still require drug testing. Additionally, companies with federal contracts are mandated to conduct drug tests for numerous positions.

Nationally, the cannabis positivity rate in safety-sensitive jobs decreased slightly to 0.95% last year from 0.98% in 2022. However, post-accident cannabis positivity rates have risen dramatically—up 114.3% since 2015. It is important to note that a positive test post-accident does not necessarily indicate active use, as cannabis can remain detectable in the body for weeks or even months.

Cannabis positivity is notably higher in office jobs, with increases seen in 13 out of 15 industries. Workers in finance and insurance led this trend, with a 35.7% increase from 2022. Public administration experienced a 23.5% rise, while real estate and leasing saw a 22.2% increase.

"It isn't clear why we're seeing an increase in overall and cannabis drug positivity in office workers, but it isn't a stretch that a combination of unprecedented stress and isolation during the pandemic with work-from-home policies during and post-pandemic may be contributing to greater drug use in employees in traditionally white-collar fields," stated Sam Sphar, Vice President and General Manager of Workforce Health Solutions for Quest, in a press release. "The results underscore the growing need for mental health support and drug education programs to ensure employees are safe and productive, whether working at home or in the office."

While cannabis positivity has increased in both Michigan and nationwide, the positivity rates for other drugs have generally declined over the past five years.

In Michigan, the positivity rate for natural opiates decreased to 0.15% last year from 0.26% in 2019. This category includes drugs such as heroin, morphine, and codeine. Semi-synthetic opiates like hydrocodone and oxycodone saw their positivity rates drop to 0.38% from 0.5% in 2019.

Cocaine positivity fell to 0.19% in 2023 from 0.25% pre-pandemic.

Amphetamine positivity has remained stable, with a positivity rate of 1.4%.

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