Home Resources Articles (Archives) Newly Released Survey Results Bring Encouragement and Concern

Newly Released Survey Results Bring Encouragement and Concern

(September 2019) In August, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) released the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data findings.  NSDUH is an annual household interview survey that estimates the use of illicit drugs (including the non-medical use of prescription medication), alcohol and tobacco. The survey also provides insight into the prevalence of mental disorders and co-occurring substance use and mental disorders in the U.S. About 67,500 people aged 12 or older are interviewed in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Here are three noteworthy survey findings of interest to employers.

1.   The historically high-risk population of 18 – 25-year olds showed decreases in consumption across a number of substances. It’s promising to see decreased use of substances by young adults – especially for businesses whose stability is dependent on this new generation of workers. While progress is still needed to address substance misuse in this age group, the evolution and implementation of evidence-based school prevention initiatives seem to be paying off in this generation.

Substance % of respondents reporting use in 2017 % of respondents reporting use in 2018
Alcohol* 56.3% 55.1%
Opioids (misuse) 7.3% 5.6%
Prescription pain relievers (misuse) 7.2% 5.5%
Heroin 0.6% 0.5%
Cocaine 6.2% 5.8%
Methamphetamines 1.1% 0.8%

*Reported use in the past month. All other figures are reported use in the past year.

Given the decreases in substance misuse by young adults, the prevention efforts geared toward young people might be a motivator for preventionists to expand their prevention efforts to adults, who have historically not been the focus of prevention. When we think of where to best to reach adults, the workplace is at the top of the list. Businesses often think of their drug-free workplace programs in terms of intervention and discipline, but they can also be a powerful force of prevention – not just for employees, but for those in employees’ sphere of influence (e.g., family and friends), too.

2.   Marijuana use is on the rise or holding steady across all age groups, with an overall 15.9% increase in use since 2017. The age group with the biggest increase in marijuana use is adults 26 or older, many of whom comprise the current workforce. That age group showed an 8.6% increase in use since 2017 and a 30.2% increase since 2015. Quest Diagnostics’ 2018 Drug Testing Index mirrors this trend, reporting that 49.3% of positive workplace tests were for marijuana and that positive marijuana tests in the workplace increased by 8% in 2018.

Additionally, when asked about smoking marijuana once or twice a week, only 15.4% of young adults age 18 – 25 perceived that behavior as a great risk.  And of all respondents age 12 or older, only 30.6% perceived it as a great risk.  It’s no wonder, then, that marijuana is being used at such high rates – which continue to increase – especially given the low levels of perceived risk and the growing number of state laws allowing marijuana to be used medically and recreationally.

The increase in adult marijuana use among working-age people reinforces the importance of businesses having clear policies and operations to respond to employees’ use of marijuana. And in states where marijuana is legal for medical or personal use, it’s even more critical for employers to be educated on the law, as well as their options, rights and responsibilities before they make a proactive decision on how they will respond to an employee’s use of marijuana.

3.   The results showed some decline in the use of depressants (e.g., opioids/opiates), but increases in stimulant use. Heroin use increased throughout the 2000s, but rates of use have been slowly declining since 2016, according to this survey. 2018 was the second consecutive year showing a 0.3% decrease in use. Opioid misuse (e.g., Oxycontin®, Vicodin®) is also slowly declining, from 4.2% of respondents in 2017 to 3.7% in 2018.

The Quest Diagnostics’ Drug Testing Index also reflected a decline in positive opiate tests — from 7.16% of positive tests in 2017 to 5.6% in 2018. It’s worth noting that MAT (medication-assisted treatment) for opioid use disorder has steadily increased since 2016, with over 1.1 million people reporting that they received MAT in 2018.

Stimulant methamphetamine usage among adults 26 years and older increased 1.7% from 2017. Cocaine use among adults remained steady. The Quest data showed slight decreases in the rates of positive workplace drug tests for these substances.

These findings remind us that having a singular focus on one drug, like opiates/opioids, is not the most effective approach to prevention and intervention. A best-practice drug-free workplace program and policy will promote prevention and treatment for a range of substances, eliminating the danger of solely focusing on one substance and potentially missing problematic use of another substance.

These are just a few highlights of NSDUH survey results that might impact employers’ approach to their drug-free workplace program. To view the full report, click here.

DISCLAIMER: This publication is designed to provide accurate information regarding the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that those involved in the publication are not engaged in rendering legal counsel. If legal advice is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.