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Fewer workers test positive for drugs (cont'd)

Quest also found changing positivity rates often mirrored larger developments in drug use in the U.S. For instance, a decline in the number of workers testing positive for methamphetamine observed in 2005 roughly coincided with federal and state efforts to crackdown on so-called "meth labs." These initiatives also put over-the-counter medicines - such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine - behind the pharmacy counter.

The Wall Street Journal noted independent studies suggest that 65% to 80% of positive tests for amphetamine and opiate use ultimately are disregarded because the user has a valid prescription. But officials add the growing problem of painkiller addiction means employers need to be more alert to the possibility these drugs are being abused.

Another wrinkle is the rapid momentum to decriminalize and even legalize marijuana use. Colorado and Washington State are expected to reap a bonanza from sales of marijuana, and another 20 states or so are said to be eyeing full legalization, according to the Washington Post.

As that drug becomes legal, employers may revise their policies and reconsider the purpose of their drug-testing programs. "Ultimately, as an employer, the issue is whether people are impaired in the workplace, not whether someone smoked a joint over the weekend," Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for looser drug laws, commented to the Wall Street Journal.