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Alarming rise in drug and alcohol use in the workplace during COVID pandemic

Dr John Edwards, Senior Toxicologist at AusHealth sounds the alarm on a spike in substance abuse in the workplace as Australians have endured a year of devastating isolation and job loss caused by the global COVID-19 outbreak. This new study revealed trends during the pandemic pointing to “an alarming rise in hazardous or harmful alcohol consumption and drug use in the workplace”.

Greg Johansen - Managing Director & CEO of AusHealth

“Being under lockdowns during a worldwide pandemic has been hard on everyone, and many people look like they are turning to alcohol and drugs to ease their distress resulting in a rise in positive rates of drug and alcohol detection in the workplace. It’s important for companies to realise this and act to prevent drug and alcohol use in the workplace.”

Mr Greg Johansen, Managing Director of AusHealth pointing out the need for companies to ensure that employee safety and wellbeing is not compromised.

Dr John Edwards based his findings on test results from almost 32,000 tests during 2020 (the pandemic year) compared with the previous year’s 70,000 tests in working adults from all States and Territories across 600 plus companies.

Data were grouped by test type (breath alcohol, oral fluid drugs and urine drugs) in each quarter year. Although the number of tests performed declined in 2020 compared with 2019 (associated with lowered workplace attendance and temporary suspension of drug testing in some businesses), when we used first quarter 2019 rates as a baseline (0.098% positive), there were increases in quarterly rates of oral fluid drug detections in 2020 of between 28% and 112%.

The corresponding quarters in 2019 saw lower elevations in positive rate (between 5% and 25%). The annual oral fluid drug positive rate rose by 21%. The highest quarterly positive rate was 0.264% in quarter 4 of 2020. For urine drug tests, the first quarter 2019 reference rates was 1.010% positive, with increases in quarterly rates of urine drug detections in 2020 of between 45% and 106%. The corresponding quarters in 2019 saw lower elevations in the urine positive rate (between 37% and 55%). The annual drug positive rate rose by 18%. The highest quarterly positive rate was 2.020% in quarter 3 2020. For breath alcohol, quarterly data were very variable, but peaked at 0.34% of all tests in quarter 2 2020 (representing almost 200% increase over quarter 1 2019).

At the end of the study, Dr Edwards had found an increase in “hazardous” alcohol and drug use detected in the workplace in 2020 of 14% for alcohol and 18 to 21% for drugs when compared with 2019.

*Up to 74% increase in quarterly detection of positive drug and alcohol tests were detected in 2020 across 32,000 tests conducted.

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