Health and Drug Screening Trends and Challenges Amid COVID-19

Posted: September 09, 2020

Health and Drug Screening During COVID-19

Info Cubic has examined how HR professionals can safely and efficiently start hiring again, including the different trends and challenges that we are seeing when it comes to drug screening and occupational health screening.

Here are a few frequently asked questions that we are hearing right now:

  • What drug screening trends and challenges are you seeing? While the volume of our background screening products, including criminal searches and verifications, has steadily increased as companies have gotten back to business, we have seen a decrease in drug screening due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. This trend is expected since applicants are reluctant to visit drug testing sites (i.e. hospitals and medical offices) since they are concerned that the providers might also be doing COVID-19 testing at the same location. We want to assure everyone that this is not the case with Info Cubic’s own drug testing partners who keep their physicals and drug testing locations separate from COVID-19 testing. Additionally, our partners are very experienced and knowledgeable on good hygiene practices so applicants should feel safe visiting our drug testing sites. 
  • What are you seeing regarding drug positivity rates during the COVID-19 pandemic Unfortunately, we have seen a massive increase in pre-employment screening drug testing positivity rates during COVID-19, which is especially critical to employers in safety-sensitive industries. Here are a few numbers to give you an idea:
    • There was a 37 percent increase in positive drug testing, including a 51 percent increase in cocaine positivity rates in May 2020 compared to May 2019.
    • There has been a 20 percent increase in marijuana positivity rates.
    • There has been an over 240 percent increase in amphetamines positivity rates.
    • The positivity rate for opioid tests has also increased 430 percent since the pandemic hit.
    • Quest Diagnostics recently released its annual drug testing index revealing that 2019 brought a 16 year high for positive rates. It’s scary to predict what 2020’s drug testing index may show as a result of the stress, loneliness and isolation from working from home.
  • What are you seeing with drug testing turnaround times? Fortunately, we have not seen an increase in drug testing turnaround times during the pandemic. They have stayed virtually the same, remaining consistent to where we were pre-COVID with a 24 to 48-hour turnaround time for negative results and about a 48 to 72-hour turnaround time for positive tests.
  • What is happening with DOT drug testing during COVD-19? As for DOT drug testing during COVD-19, the FMSCA recognized the issues that COVID-19 caused so they sent out a notice on July 6th  saying, “In recognition of these barriers to full compliance in some locations, the Agency may exercise discretion to determine not to enforce the minimum annual percentage random testing rates for drugs and alcohol, and the requirement that each employer ensure that the dates for administering random drug and alcohol tests are spread reasonably throughout the calendar year, as set forth in 49 CFR 382.305(b)(1) and (2) and49CFR 382.305(k), respectively. FMCSA emphasizes, however, that employers capable of meeting these requirements must continue to do so.” It continues on with, “Employers must continue to select drivers at the required rate of 50 percent of their average number of driver positions for controlled substances, and 10 percent for random alcohol testing during the calendar year 2020. If a test is unable to be completed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the motor carrier must maintain written documentation of the specific reasons for non-compliance. For example, employers should document closures or restricted use of testing facilities or the unavailability of testing personnel. Additionally, employers should document actual actions taken to identify alternative testing sites or other testing resources.”
  • Are there alternative drug testing methods rather than going to collection sites? Yes! We had a client mention that they had gone virtual, so we recommended an oral fluid drug test, which let them be involved in the screening process but not be invasive to the candidate’s privacy.
  • How does a remote drug test work? Basically, the remote drug test is shipped to the applicant’s home address and the applicant and hiring manager get together over a virtual meeting. The applicant opens the package, administers the oral swab, packs it up, and sends it back for processing. We have found remote drug testing to be a great solution for remote hiring.
  • What Occupational Health trends are you seeing? Like drug testing, our occupational health testing volume has decreased during the pandemic since our fit for duty and lift tests are done at  hospitals. Most of our partners also are not conducting breath and pulmonary tests right now due to COVID-19. However, if you need to do alcohol testing, our partners can still do an alcohol blood test.
  • Should I cut my health and drug screening programs during COVID-19? Another drug screening trend that we have seen during COVID-19 is many companies completely pausing their health and drug screening programs all together. Is this a good idea? No! As an employer, it is more important than ever to protect your brand and reduce your liability through health and drug screening. If you are looking for ways to cut expenses, yes, you may save some money by cutting out a drug screen but if your future employee ends up hurting someone or filing a worker’s comp claim, the repercussions of not doing the testing will far outweigh the relatively inexpensive cost of it. Employers must continue to provide a safe drug-free work environment with well-defined substance abuse policies, workforce drug testing programs, and education about the consequences of drug misuse. It is more important than ever to not cut back on your health and drug screening in order to protect your business during COVID-19.