With ever-changing regulations regarding marijuana and the intense competition for talent, some companies have entertained the idea of abandoning drug testing programs altogether. While this might seem like an easy way to avoid both issues, forgoing drug screening can significantly increase the risk for employer. Constant news coverage of pot is overshadowing the fact that use of other drugs is swiftly rising in the United States, including cocaine and meth. How could the surge of drug use affect your hiring pipeline and business?
The Opioid Crisis Continues
For over twenty years, America has been ravaged by opioid addiction. Recent steps to stall the spread of opioids have seen moderate success. The National Center for Health Statistics with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently released their findings for 2018, announcing that the total number of deaths due to drug overdoses fell by five percent – the first decline since 1990.
Synthetic opioids could change that. Use of Fentanyl, the deadly synthetic opioid that is nearly 100 times stronger than morphine, is becoming a major issue, especially in the Northeast and Midwest.
“Opioid users have looked to other methods for managing pain as pills become less accessible,” explained Scott Kitchens, Vice President of Drug Testing & Health Services for Employment Screening Services (ESS). “Many unfortunately choose Fentanyl or heroin as an alternative, as they are somewhat easily available on the black market, albeit illegally and without prescription or government regulations.”
According to that same CDC announcement, synthetic opioid overdose deaths were estimated at nearly 32,000 in 2018, up from roughly 29,000 in 2017; meaning, the crisis continues. Opioid manufacturers have come under fire for starting and sustaining the crisis, resulting in thousands of lawsuits. In late August 2019, Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, settled more than 2,000 lawsuits for nearly 12 billion dollars before filing for bankruptcy. Efforts are being made across the country to combat the spread of opioids via legal action and stronger rehabilitation programs, but employers should be aware of the continued impact on the workforce.
Surges of Methamphetamine
While the opioid crisis has captured headlines for the last few years, there’s another drug epidemic running in parallel. Methamphetamine use is sharply climbing, with seizures of meth rising 142 percent between 2017 and 2018. While the opioid overdose death rate fell, death rates due to methamphetamine use grew by 21 percent in 2018, with meth-related overdose deaths quadrupling from 2011-2017.
“Meth is cheap and widespread, especially as the cartels continue to mass-produce product,” said Kitchens. “We’ve seen meth use rise to 160 percent in the Southeast alone.”
Synthetic opioids are crossing into the world of methamphetamines, with fentanyl showing up in the toxicology screens of victims of methamphetamine overdoses. In many cases, opioid abusers are turning to methamphetamines as a rebound upper from the depressive properties of fentanyl, creating a dangerous cycle.
The Rise of Cocaine
Nearly 14,000 Americans died from cocaine overdoses in 2017, more than double the number that succumbed to the drug in 2014. As with methamphetamine, cocaine is claiming more lives than before. The substance is becoming more available as the Colombian production of coca increased and distribution prices decreased in recent years. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stated in their yearly report that the majority of product seized on US soil is directly linked to Colombian suppliers, and the drug is finding its way farther inland.
“Cocaine has been the second most abused drug in the United States for a long time,” said Kitchens.
But it’s not just standard cocaine that’s causing the spike in deaths. According to the DEA, the use of fentanyl-laced cocaine is spreading. As the opioid epidemic continues and fentanyl use increases, the synthetic drug is making its way into other substances, whether intentionally or not.
“Employers should take care to stay focused on testing for these dangerous drugs,” urged Kitchens. Specialty panels and customized programs can help companies maintain safe and productive workforces by testing for the substances that cause them concern, and excluding those that do not. These options, whether conducted as a pre-employment drug test or random screening, can be an effective method for uncovering substance abuse in your workplace.
As cultural norms around drug use change, businesses need to be even more aware of the effects of substance in the workplace. While marijuana legislation is the current hot topic, the widespread availability and overconsumption of opioids, methamphetamines, and cocaine cannot be dismissed. To discuss your drug testing options with one of our seasoned professionals, click here or call 866.859.0143.