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Employees Are Failing Drug Tests

More than one in 25 U.S. workers fail their employer’s drug tests.
May 18, 2017

​MADISON, N.J. – Drug use in the American workforce, fueled by illicit drugs, reached the highest positivity rate in 12 years, according to an analysis of more than 10 million workforce drug test results released this week by Quest Diagnostics.

"This year's findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations," said Dr. Barry Sample, senior director, science and technology, at Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. "Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should be alert to the potential for drug use among their workforce."

As more states legalize or consider legalizing marijuana, Quest data indicates that marijuana positivity continued its upward climb in both the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive and general U.S. workforces. In oral fluid testing, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75%, from 5.1% in 2013 to 8.9% in 2016 in the general U.S. workforce. Marijuana positivity also increased in both urine testing (2.4% in 2015 versus 2.5% in 2016) and hair testing (7.0% in 2015 versus 7.3% in 2016) in the same population.

In Colorado and Washington, the first states in which recreational marijuana use was legalized, the overall urine positivity rate for marijuana outpaced the national average in 2016 for the first time since the statutes took effect. The increase was more pronounced in Colorado, which increased 11% (2.61% in 2015 versus 2.90% in 2016), than in Washington, which increased 9% (2.82% in 2015 versus 3.08% in 2016). The national positivity rate for marijuana in the general U.S. workforce in urine testing increased 4% (2.4% in 2015 compared to 2.5% in 2016).

“We have been tracking the trends in marijuana positivity in states that have passed medical and recreational marijuana use statutes for several years now. 2016 is the first year since Colorado and Washington approved recreational use that the rates of year-over-year change were sharply higher than the national average,” said Sample.

The Wall Street Journal reports that another concern for employers is the continuing rise in cocaine positives, particularly in drug tests conducted after workplace accidents. The Journal writes that of U.S. workers tested by Quest, traces of cocaine were found in 0.28% of tests. The share of positives from post-accident tests was more than twice as high as the rate from pre-employment assessments.

“While a test can’t tell you whether or not the use of cocaine is what caused that incident, it certainly raises the level of concern that cocaine may have had some impact,” Sample said.

A bright spot of the Quest data found that the use of prescription opioids like oxycodone appears to be declining. The Journal notes that in 2016, heroin positives also leveled off, indicating reversal of a previous pattern.