A statistic jumped out at me the other day: workplace drug test positives for prescription semi-synthetic opioid painkillers (e.g. oxycodone, hydrocodone) rated second only to marijuana.
In the first half of 2011, marijuana, hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (Oxycontin) showed positive rates of 2.0%, 1.3% and 1.1%, respectively, according to Quest Diagnostic’s Drug Testing Index. When you break down the testing into test types, the numbers are even more dramatic. Post-accident positives for hydrocodone and oxycodone were found to be 3.7% and 1.8%, respectively.
This really shouldn’t be that surprising when you look at the data on illicit drug use in the U.S. The number one illicit drug used in 2010 was marijuana (17.4 million users). The second most used illicit drug class was psychotherapeutics (prescription-type drugs used for non-medical purposes, 7.0 million users). Within this class, 5.1 million used painkillers, 2.2 million used tranquilizers, 1.1 million used stimulants and 374,000 used sedatives. Rounding out the list after psychotherapeutics were cocaine (1.5 million users), hallucinogens (1.2 million users), inhalants (0.7 million users) and heroin (0.2 million users).
If prescription painkillers are the second most abused class of drugs, why (according to Quest Diagnostics) did only 12% of workplace drug screenings performed by Quest during the first half of this year include prescription opioids? One reason is that testing programs aren’t keeping up with the substances that are being abused in today’s society. Drug testing panels are often based on yesterday’s statistics. Another reason could be that employers just don’t realize that their current drug testing panel doesn’t include prescription painkillers.
While many drug testing panels include opiates, they don’t always include semi-synthetic opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. For example, the DOT drug testing panel tests for codeine and morphine at 2000 ng/ml. At this level, semi-synthetic opioids will generally not be detected. Non-DOT employers who wish to test for these substances need to add an ‘extended opiate panel’ to their drug testing menu. Most extended opiate panels include hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone and oxymorphone along with morphine and codeine.
As prescription painkiller abuse increases, more employers are adding extended opiates to their panels. Quest Diagnostics has seen a 100% increase in workplace extended opiate testing since 2006. Furthermore, SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention Drug Testing Advisory Board recently recommended that testing for oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone be included in the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs.
Eric Bensen, Ph.D.,President & Compliance Specialist,USA Mobile Drug Testing of Minneapolis,
firstname.lastname@example.org | Direct: 612-333-1525
For more information on expanded opiate testing, call USA Mobile Drug Testing of Central Long Island 516-802-3546 if you are on Long Island, New York. To find other locations for USA Mobile Drug Testing call 1-855-USA Test