The use of prescription opiates by American workers and job applicants rose 18% from 2008 to 2009 and has grown 40% since 2005, researchers said Wednesday. Tests performed after on-the-job accidents showed that drug use was four times as common as among job applicants, suggesting that the drugs may be playing a role in the accidents. The good news from the new report by Quest Diagnostics Inc. of Madison, N.J., is that cocaine use continued to decline, and was down 29.3% from 2008 to 2009 in the general workforce and 25% among safety-sensitive workers, such as pilots and drivers.
Quest is one of the largest diagnostic companies in the country. The new results, reported online
, are based on more than 5.5 million urine tests for drugs. They are consistent with findings released by the federal government in March
showing a 111% increase in prescription-drug-related visits to emergency rooms between 2004 and 2008 and a 29% jump from 2007 to 2008.
"Because more U.S. workers are performing their duties while taking prescription opiates, employers, particularly those with safety-sensitive workers, should note this trend and take appropriate steps to ensure worker and public safety," Dr. Barry Sample, Quest's director of science and technology, said in a statement.
The data showed that prescription opiates were detected in urine from 3.7% of workers who had been in a work-related accident, compared with 0.78% of job applicants. Possible side effects that can increase the chances of an accident include drowsiness, nausea and depressed respiration.
Semi-synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone, oxycodones and hydromorphone were by far the most common, while the naturally-occurring opiates codeine and morphine were much less common.
Methamphetamine use showed little change over the period, but amphetamine use climbed by more than 15% in 2009.
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