US Workforce Drug Positivity Skyrockets

US Workforce Drug Positivity Skyrockets

By Jennifer Gladstone

Every year Quest Diagnostics does an in-depth study of how many American workers test positive on employer sanctioned drug tests. Over the last few years, positivity results have been going up, and this year is no different. In fact, samples from 2016 show a 12 year high.

The report looked at more than 10 million drug tests results across the general workforce, as well as in federally-mandated and safety-sensitive positions. As you might imagine, the presence of marijuana increased significantly.

The numbers differed depending on what kind of drug testing was done. In oral fluid testing – which detects recent drug use – positive tests increased by nearly 75% in the general workforce. Nearly 9% of the general workers testing showed signs of use. Urine and hair testing of the same group –which detects more long term use – rose as well, but not as significantly.

Positive results for federally-mandated, safety-sensitive positions such as truck and bus drivers, pilots and even staff at nuclear power plants, rose nearly 10% from 2015 to 2016. Again, this is for a very small percentage of workers — just 0.78% in 2016 — but this is still the largest year-to-year increase in 5 years.

Nationwide positive tests for marijuana rose by 4%, but in Colorado and Washington (the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana) they increased by 11% and 9% respectively.

Cocaine usage also saw an increase for the 4th straight year. Cocaine positivity rose by 12% in the general workforce and by 7% among federally-mandated workers. While this might seem like a huge jump, even with the increases, the positive results only represent 0.28% of both groups of workers.

The use of amphetamines has also jumped. This number has been on the rise for several years, and according to Quest, positive results from urine testing has climbed 64% in the general workforce since 2012. The increase for federally-mandated workers rose at a slower pace of 14%. Oral fluid testing got 75% more positives when comparing 2013 numbers to 2016. The dramatic increase in these tests is reportedly driven by prescription drugs like Adderall.

Speaking of prescription drugs, the rate of prescription opiate positivity actually declined, as it has been doing over the last 4 years. The opioid epidemic might be starting to turn a corner as more and more state and local authorities put efforts in place to control these extremely addictive, yet legal drugs.

These numbers probably won’t come as a surprise for many employers. Companies across the country, especially those in states where recreational marijuana is now legal, are saying it’s getting harder to find applicants who can pass a drug test. That does NOT mean it is time to reduce your testing or relax your standards. It’s just the opposite. Regardless of state law, marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, and that means employers are fully within their rights to demand a drug free workplace.

Concerned about marijuana in YOUR workplace? Our partner attorney gives you a plan for standing firm in this webinar recording. 

About the Author

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone is a news anchor and journalist with more than 20 years of experience in front of the camera. She's worked in several markets, large and small, and has performed nearly every task needed in a newsroom. As EBI’s Screening News Editor, she keeps EBI’s customers and blog subscribers up to date on the latest screening news and legislative alerts affecting companies of all sizes.

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