Q4 Update: Positivity Rates Continue To Worsen Due To the COVID-19 Pandemic


As the COVID-19 pandemic takes center stage, crises such as the amphetamine epidemic only continue to worsen as they go unnoticed. Before the pandemic, amphetamines were already on the rise, and with added stress, anxiety, and fear, drug test positivity rates are now soaring. The pandemic has exacerbated conditions that lead people to self-medicate to help cope with the emotions that come along with unemployment, financial and health issues, and lockdowns. In addition, some individuals refrained from seeking treatment centers out of fear of contracting the virus. Others had trouble finding facilities that were open, as they limited services or closed. As we face one pandemic, employers need to anticipate the worsening amphetamine epidemic and prepare their workplace drug testing programs now before it’s too late.

Drug Testing Positivity Rates

In the wake of the opioid epidemic, as restrictions on opioids make them harder to obtain, DISA has seen a sustained increase in amphetamine usage over the past few years. In 2018, amphetamines surpassed cocaine in the number of positive drug test results. This was the first time DISA has seen this happen, and, in 2019, it happened again.

DISA Random Positivity Rates for Opioids and Amphetamines (Year-Over-Year)

Early numbers from the COVID-19 pandemic are indicating growing concerns from employers surrounding drug abuse. Depression, anxiety, fear, stress, loneliness, uncertainty, etc. are all threatening to individuals with substance abuse disorders, as well as those who are at risk for developing one.

Graph 1

When comparing DISA’s data year-over-year for random drug testing (regardless of the methodology or program), we are also seeing signs of dramatically increased drug abuse in our industry, with no slowdown in sight! The timeliness of these spikes in positivity rates directly correlate to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the four major drug test types, there’s been a 92% increase in positive tests since April (the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic), accounting for an additional 2,100 positive tests. With such a significant increase, this is the first time we've seen amphetamines record MORE positive drug tests than marijuana! Opioids have gone from one fourth as many positive drug tests as cocaine had in 2019 to now double the number of positives since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Graph 2

While the total number of positives may have declined in June, opioids have stayed at a 400%+ increase year-over-year and are now returning. Amphetamines had a slight regression towards the industry average in September but remain more than double 2019’s rate and is still reporting more positive tests than marijuana.

Graph 3

Cost of Drug Abuse

Once the pandemic is over, the long-lasting effects of substance abuse will continue to impact employers and their workplaces. That’s why it’s more important now than ever before to continue to implement drug testing procedures. While rebuilding your staff, pre-employment drug testing will help you to choose a reliable hire. Random testing or drug testing before employees return to work following a furlough or lay-off are also instrumental in maintaining a safe workplace.

The average employee across all industries with an untreated substance abuse disorder costs their employer an average of $7,000 per year in excess healthcare expenses, absenteeism, and turnover costs. Using DISA’s drug testing calculator, created by studying 12-24 months of drug test data in safety-sensitive industries, employers can formulate positivity rates as they begin drug testing. To get an estimate of the cost of drug abuse in your workplace, use DISA’s drug testing calculator here!

Employers need to remain vigilant to the trends in positivity rates and prepare their workplace now to prevent drug abuse in the first place. Implementing a comprehensive drug testing program with the addition of hair testing will create a longer detection window. A urinalysis will detect recent drug use, while a hair test will detect a 90-day window, and when used together, they eliminate any gaps in drug use.

What Can DISA Do?

By enlisting DISA as your trusted third-party administrator (TPA), our professionals can assist you with building and implementing a drug testing program that caters to your specific business needs. With a variety of subject matter experts, we can help you navigate the complexities of drug testing laws and methodologies to create a program that will better protect your workplace and enhance safety as employees return during these unprecedented times. For help implementing employment screening practices while adjusting to the “new normal,” contact our sales group at 281-673-2530 or email Sales@Disa.com.

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About DISA Global Solutions

Founded in 1986, DISA is the industry-leading provider of employee screening and compliance services. Headquartered in Houston, with more than 35 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, DISA’s comprehensive scope of services includes drug and alcohol testing, background check, occupational health, and transportation compliance. DISA assists employers in making informed staffing decisions while building a culture of safety in their workplace.

DISA Global Solutions aims to provide accurate and informative content for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The reader retains full responsibility for the use of the information contained herein. Always consult with a professional or legal expert.