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Positivity Rate for Opioids Added to DOT Drug Testing Panel Notably Higher than Traditional Opiates

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Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

Data from the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ shows that the positivity rate for four opioids recently added to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) drug test program was notably higher than the rate observed among more traditional opiates, according to a blog from Quest Diagnostics.

On January 1, 2018, the DOT added four new “semi-synthetic” opioids to its drug testing panel – hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone – for DOT regulated industries. Prior to this change, the only opiates included in the test were codeine, morphine, and 6-acetylmorphine (6-AM).

Data shows that positivity in the workforce for the opioids codeine and morphine was between 0.18 percent and 0.21 percent for the past five years. In the first quarter of 2018, their positivity rate held steady while the positivity rate for the recently added opioids was notably higher over the same period.

The expanded drug testing panel “was implemented to update and align the panel with broader prescription opiate drug use and misuse patterns” and to help employers in DOT regulated industries to “identify workers who may negatively impact transportation safety,” according to Quest Diagnostics.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) – which advances science on drug use – defines opioids as including “the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and legally prescribed pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.”

Statistics from NIDA reveal more than 90 Americans die of an opioid overdose every day, and more than 33,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose in 2015. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed opioid overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014.

In October 2017, United States President Donald Trump officially declared “the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law” during a speech at the White House where he signed a presidential memorandum for “Combatting the National Drug Demand and Opioid Crisis.”

Even with President Trump declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, employers may not be detecting the most abused prescription drugs in their drug testing program, according to Dawn Standerwick, Vice President of Strategic Growth at Employment Screening Resources® (ESR).

Standerwick was interviewed for the Talent Economy article “What Can Employers Do to Fight the Opioid Epidemic?” and stated that often drug test panels selected by employers may not even test for the most commonly abused substances that include many synthetic and semi-synthetic opiates.

Standerwick – who has 26 years of experience and extensive knowledge of workplace drug testing – explained that most drug test programs encompass a standard 5, 9, or 10 panel test which does not include synthetic and semi-synthetic opiates like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone.

She said the standard drug test panel used by most employers only tests for naturally occurring opiates codeine and morphine, not synthetic versions. In order to detect synthetic opiates, an expanded opiates panel must be added. She suggested that business leaders “take proactive measures” with drug testing.

The growing awareness of an opioid crisis in America by employers and the need for advanced drug testing for opioids in the workplace is one of the “ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends” for 2018, a list of emerging and influential trends in the background screening industry selected by ESR.

In May 2018, ESR News reported that drug use by the U.S. workforce remained at its highest level in more than a decade as the positivity rate for drug tests was 4.2 percent in 2017, the same as in 2016 and the highest since 2004, according to an analysis of more than 10 million drug test results.

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