The U.S. rate of workforce drug positivity hit a 14-year high in 2018, according to a new analysis released April 11 by Quest Diagnostics. The company reported that positivity rates in the combined U.S. workforce increased nearly 5 percent in urine drug tests (4.2 percent in 2017 versus 4.4 percent in 2018), climbing to the highest level since 2004’s 4.5 percent. And the rates are now more than 25 percent higher than the 30-year low of 3.5 percent recorded between 2010 and 2012.
Quest Diagnostics released the results of the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index at the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association annual conference in Chicago.
“Our in-depth analysis shows that marijuana is not only present in our workforce, but use continues to increase,” said Barry Sample, Ph.D., senior director, science and technology at Quest Diagnostics. “As marijuana policy changes and employers consider strategies to protect their employees, customers, and general public, employers should weigh the risks that drug use, including marijuana, poses to their business.”
Marijuana continues to be most commonly detected illicit substance across all workforce categories (general U.S. workforce; federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce; and combined U.S. workforce, which includes the prior two populations) and specimen types (urine, oral fluid, and hair). The rate of marijuana positivity increased in nearly all workforce categories. In the general U.S. workforce, marijuana positivity increased nearly eight percent in urine testing and almost 17 percent since 2014. For the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, which utilizes only urine testing, marijuana positivity grew nearly five percent between 2017 (0.84 percent) and 2018 (0.88 percent).
In the general U.S. workforce, the positivity rate for opiates in urine drug testing declined across all opiate categories. Among the general workforce screening for opiates (mostly codeine and morphine), positivity declined nearly 21 percent between 2017 and 2018, the largest drop in three years and a nearly 37 percent decrease since the peak in 2015.
The company noted that changes to federal rules for drug testing the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce went into effect in January 2018, with the addition of four semi-synthetic opiates contributing to the large increases in year-over-year positivity among those workers. And it reported that among the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, positivity for post-accident urine testing jumped more than 51 percent year-over-year (3.1 percent in 2017 versus 4.7 percent in 2018) and that a rise in urine specimens reported as invalid suggests more people are trying to “cheat” the test.
“Increases in post-accident positivity among safety-sensitive workers should serve as a warning to employers that employee drug use may increase the risk of workforce accidents or injuries,” said Kimberly Samano, Ph.D., scientific director at Quest Diagnostics. “Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should incorporate strategies that monitor drug use above and beyond pre-employment drug screening.”