Drugs have been around for hundreds of years. The evidence can be found in photographs, paintings, writing, and even the bible. It is no surprise that over the years it has only gained popularity. With increasing in manufacturing and quality of drugs, more and more people are using. We have had the largest jump in drug use that the United States has experienced in one year. It is clearly a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

 

The Rise in Drug Use

According to Quest Diagnostic, a large drug testing lab in the United States, Illicit drug use among workers has risen to the highest it has been in the last 12 years. The data was gathered from more than 10 million drug tests from the general workforce and workers in safety- sensitive roles where drug testing is mandatory. The categories of workers test were: federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers, and the general workforce. The first two categories can include people such as bus drivers, pilots, nuclear power plant workers, and other jobs that require routine drug testing.

The results of the test reveal that 4.2 percent of those tested were positive for drug use. This result from 2016 was a five percent relative increase from the previous 2015 mark of 4.0 percent. The United States has not seen drug use this high since the year 2004 when there was a 4.5 percent rate of drug use. This 4.2 percent is responsible for some 9.5 million positive urine drugs tests across the United States workforce.

The National Safety Council released a new survey of more than 500 companies, with 50 or more employees. This survey revealed that a whopping 70 percent of employers are dealing with the impact of prescription drug abuse within their companies. While taking prescription medication is legal, it can lead you down a path of abuse if not taken seriously. If not treated the addiction can become a real problem; especially in the workplace. While these drugs are “legal”, the survey also revealed that 65 percent of employers feel justifiable in firing an employee partaking in such addiction.

But do employers want to help these people who are struggling. Surveys done by the National Safety Council reveal that 70 percent of employers would like to help employees struggling with drug abuse but only one fifth of them feel “extremely prepared” to deal with prescription drug misuse at the workplace. Also 88 percent of companies want their insurance to cover other alternatives to manage pain but of these 60 percent believes the insurance company should be responsible and 30 percent do not act on these impulses. This could be contributing to the rise in drug use over the past decade.

What Substances Are Most Popular?

Drug use is running rampant across the country but what specific drugs are people turning to? The most obvious are tobacco and alcohol. Those are the substances people focus on generally; however, there are many others that are disparaging the country.

Marijuana

Not surprisingly Marijuana is one of the most common drugs used by the American people. Over the past few years we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of marijuana. There are many reasons why this could have occurred but the most likely is the fact that we are seeing more states legalize this substance. The increase of drug use in the workforce can be observed in both federally-mandated and safety sensitive jobs.

Oral fluid testing is a test which detects recent drug use. This type of testing revealed that marijuana positivity increased from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016 in the general workforce. This is almost a 75 percent increase. Urine testing increased 2.4 percent in 2015 to 2.5 percent in 2015. Hair testing also increased from 7.0 percent to 7.3 percent. These numbers were observed through the general workforce. The federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce only uses urine testing. Their urine tests showed an almost 10 percent increase in marijuana positivity. We saw an increase from 0.71 percent in 2015, to 0.78 percent in 2016.

Cocaine

While many people are aware of the opioids and other drugs disparaging the country, people don’t realize that cocaine is on a rising trend as well. The United States has observed an increase in positivity rate in urine testing for the fourth year in a row for the general workforce and the second year in a row for the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce. From 2015 to 2016 cocaine positivity increased from 0.25 percent to 0.28 percent; a 12 percent increase for the general workforce. This is a seven-year high for the United States. Similarly, the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce increased 7 percent from 0.26 to 0.28.

Work-related accidents happen, whether people want them to or not. The scary fact is that when tested after work place accidents, positive testing for cocaine were double the rates of pre-employment tests and higher than random drugs tests as well. Dr. Sample states that “While a positive test doesn’t prove drug use caused the accident, it raises the question as to whether it played a role.”

Methamphetamines and Amphetamines

Amphetamines, which include drugs like Adderall, have been increasingly showing up in drugs tests year after year. Compared to 2015, amphetamines rose more than 8 percent in 2016 urine tests for federally-mandated, safety-sensitive and general workforces. This increase has generally been caused by prescription drugs.

Methamphetamines saw a decline for a bit between 2005 and 2008. This was a great move in the right direction and remained steady from 2008 to 2012. Unfortunately, since this time methamphetamine positivity has seen a great incline. Between the years 2012 and 2016, methamphetamine positivity has increased 64 percent in the general workforce and 14 percent in federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers.

Opioids/ Heroin

Last but definitely not least is opioids. This is a grave epidemic around the United States right now. An opioid can include anything from heroine to prescription pain killers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. There were approximately 20.5 million American over the age of 12 that had a substance use disorder in 2015; 2 million of these individuals had a substance use disorder that involved prescription pain killers. While only 591,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin, approximately 23 percent of individuals who use heroin will develop an opioid addiction.

Death Tolls

Many of these individuals who abuse substances will end up overdosing. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is the single leading cause of accidental death in the United States and is responsible for almost 40 percent more deaths than car crashes as of 2014. Between 2000 and 2015, more than 500,000 people have died from drug overdose. In the year 2016 alone, around 59,000 people died from drug overdose. This is the largest increase ever reported in the United States and since the some deaths require time to decipher and report, this number will likely increase.

Of this number, heroin and other opiates accounted for 33,091 deaths. It isn’t surprising than to learn that six out of ten drug overdoses are a result of opioids. Since 1999, the number of overdoses involving opioids, prescription opioids, and heroin has quadrupled, according to the CDC. From 1999 to 2014, deaths related to opioids have increased by 396 percent. With more and more doctors prescribing opiates we have seen prescription drug sales of oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone quadruple. Opioid prescriptions are more abundant than people in twelve states. Alabama is the worst offender with 142.9 per 100 people. Every single day 91 people perish from opioid overdose. This is an extreme epidemic across the nation.

These figures are hard to compile, however, and in order to obtain some form of accuracy; circumstances surrounding the overdoses need to be investigated. Each death could have happened due to a number of causes. The first of which is straight forward overdose. This means the individual died as a result of only those drugs they ingested at that time. Another type is a combined overdose. Certain drugs do not mix well together, including ingesting alcohol along with other drugs to exacerbate the effects. Lastly, some people die from a prolonged exposure to drugs. This is a completely different overdose that kills them over a long period of time by shutting down and damaging their organs.

The Response of the Government

The government is very aware of the problem and has taken steps toward curbing this epidemic in the future. The 2018 fiscal year budget was recently released detailing how funds will be distributed for the next year. The increase in funding has shown that the Whitehouse hopes to support the Office of National Drug Policy as much as they can. Everyone is on the same page about this major issue. Because of this, we are going to see the largest-ever funding levels. This adds up to 280 million more than the National Drug Control Budget acquired for the 2017 fiscal year.

The 2018 budget that the Whitehouse is aiming to secure is a total of 27.8 billion dollars. This extensive monetary exchange is going to be used in all areas of drug control efforts including prevention, treatment, and law enforcement; so that we may see a balanced effort in the attack on drug addiction. We do see some small cuts; however the majority of the budget is laid out to take a strong stance against drugs. A total of 1.3 billion dollars is being allocated toward the prevention and treatment aspects of this plan such as Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery programs and 21st Century CURES Act programs.

There are not too many cuts made in regards to the budget, however we do see a small decrease in funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program and the Drug-Free Communities program. They are both down a few million from the previous year, 246.5 million for the ONDCP’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program and 91.9 million for the Drug-Free Communities program.

Some of the main elements of the plan include:

Treatment and Prevention

One increase we see in the 2018 fiscal budget is that of treatment funding. Almost 2 percent more than the prior 2017 budget is being allocated to this area; a total of 10.8 billion dollars. Access to treatment, prevention, and recovery services is extremely important. This is why 500 million is being granted in State Grants for the 21st Century CURES Act to increase access to all of these areas. This is a huge step in addressing the problem. The goal is to treat, prevent the necessity of treatment and use education to decrease drug use and addiction.

Security and Law Enforcement

One of the Presidents biggest aims is to stop drugs from crossing borders and entering our country in the first place. This is why he is allocating 486.6 million dollars to border security. These funds will be used to advance border control technology and tactical security features. A lot of drugs and illicit material found in the United States comes from other areas. By cutting off the flow of these drugs into our country hopefully we will decrease the availability and access to these materials and in return decrease drug use and addiction.

With this plan in place, hopefully we will see a more tactical approach to substance use disorder in the future. If we don’t address the problem head on with as much force and cooperation as possible, we will fail the people of our country. At the end of March this year, President Trump established a commission (President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis). The evaluation of the commission will be completed by October 1st, 2017. Hopefully its findings can point us in the right direction to end this drug epidemic sweeping the nation.