Workplace drug tests over the past five years found the number of workers testing positive rose by 50% between 2007 and 2011
[Workers aged between 25-34 were most likely to test positive for Class A drugs such as cocaine, report finds. Photograph Andy Rain/EPA]
Almost a million UK employees carry on working with drugs including cannabis, opiates and cocaine in their systems, according to a new report.
The study – which analysed the results of 1.7m UK workplace drug tests over the past five years – also found the number of workers testing positive rose by nearly 50% between 2007 and 2011, up from 2.26% to 3.23%.
Contrary to stereotypes, the age group most likely to test positive for Class A drugs such as cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and methadone was not the under-25s, but those aged between 25 and 34.
The report, which was carried out by the drug and alcohol screening firm Concateno, looked at drug tests conducted by 856 UK employers in industries including logistics, haulage, policing, utilities, retail, occupational health, manufacturing, construction, commerce, and healthcare.
Dr Claire George, Concateno's laboratory director, said the study's findings showed that employers needed to be aware of the issue of drug use in the workplace.
"These are conservative figures across the workplace, when you consider how many companies do not have a screening programme in place," she said. "Concateno has seen an increase in the number of businesses seeking assistance with drug and alcohol screening programmes, in order to identify, deter and reduce the risks associated with drug use in the workplace."
The report also revealed trends in drug taking. Class A drug use, for example, tends to peak a few years after people enter the workplace rather than when they are first embarking on their careers. It attributed the higher use of Class A drugs in the 25-34 age group to the fact that they "can be expensive, and having more disposable income makes drugs like cocaine and amphetamines more affordable".
Cocaine use, which peaked in 2008 and dropped off in 2009, has since increased year-on-year.
George said that collecting data on drug use could help alert employers to a variety of problems.
"Drug screening programmes are a good way of identifying potential drug related issues in the workplace," she said. "The introduction of a balanced policy which includes an employee assistance programme providing support and education, as well as drug testing, has been proven to reduce the level of substance misuse in the workplace over time."
• The headline on this article was amended on 2 July 2012. The original said: Million workers have Class A drugs in their system, study finds. All drugs are included in that figure, not just Class A drugs.
guardian.co.uk, Monday 2 July 2012 00.05 BST
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