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 Tuesday by Quest Diagnostics, a global provider of diagnostic information services.
The annual Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index will be presented at the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association annual conference this week in Orlando, Florida.
Overall positivity in urine drug testing among the combined U.S. workforce in 2016 was 4.2 percent, a 5 percent relative increase over last year's rate of 4.0 percent, and the highest annual positivity rate since 2004 (4.5 percent).
As overall substance abuse rises across the United States, drug testing programs continue to play an important role in helping to create safe, drug-free workplaces, a Quest official said.
“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 Barry Sample, PhD, senior director, science and technology, 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.”
The positivity rate in urine testing for cocaine increased for the fourth consecutive year in the general U.S. workforce and for the second consecutive year in the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce.
Cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28 percent, compared to 0.25 percent in 2015 in the general U.S. workforce, and 7 percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers to 0.28 percent, compared to 0.26 percent in 2015.
Hair testing postitivity rates for cocaine use have gone from 2.3 percent in 2012, the report stated, to 2.7 percent last year.
“Once again, the DTI statistics reveal the ongoing threat to workplace safety posed by substance abuse. While the national dialogue swirls around marijuana and opiate issues, we find cocaine —a substance with well-established dangers — continuing its troubling upswing not just in the general workforce, but in safety-sensitive jobs with federally-mandated testing,” said Matt Nieman, general counsel, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and principal, Jackson Lewis P.C. “That positive test results for cocaine persist, let alone are increasing, should serve as a reminder to employers and employees that there is no substitute for vigilance in any effective effort to thwart the potential impacts of workplace substance abuse.”
In both the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive and the general U.S. workforces, the positivity rate for cocaine in post-accident urine drug tests was more than twice that of pre-employment drug tests, and was also higher than the rate in random drug tests.
“While a positive test doesn't prove drug use caused the accident, it raises the question as to whether it played a role,” Sample said.
Marijuana positivity continued its upward climb in both the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive and general U.S. workforces.
In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75 percent, from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016 in the general U.S. workforce. Marijuana positivity also increased in both urine testing (2.4 percent in 2015 versus 2.5 percent in 2016) and hair testing (7.0 percent in 2015 versus 7.3 percent in 2016) in the same population.
Taking hair testing alone for marijuana use among the general U.S. workforce, hair testing saw positivity rates for the drug increasing from 2.8 percent in 2012 to 7.3 percent in 2016.
And, the use of hair testing has increased among U.S. businesses, with pre-employment hair testing going from 4.7 percent in 2012 to 9.5 percent last year and random hair testing among the U.S. general workforce reaching 10 percent in 2016, up from 6.3 percent in 2012.
Among the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, which only utilizes urine testing, marijuana positivity increased nearly 10 percent (0.71 percent in 2015 versus 0.78 percent in 2016), the largest year-over-year increase in five years.
However, several major trucking companies have moved to hair testing because they say it shows up drug use missed by urinalysis.
For example, hair testing proponent J.B. Hunt says that more than 4,700 of its driver applicants passed their uranalysis but the hair exam identified them as drug users.
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 percent (2.61 percent in 2015 versus 2.90 percent in 2016), than in Washington, which increased 9 percent (2.82 percent in 2015 versus 3.08 percent in 2016). The national positivity rate for marijuana in the general U.S. workforce in urine testing increased 4 percent (2.4 percent in 2015 compared to 2.5 percent 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,” Sample said.
Amphetamines (which includes amphetamine and methamphetamine positivity), continued its year-over-year upward trend, increasing more than 8 percent in urine testing in both the general U.S. and federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforces compared to 2015. Throughout the last decade, this rise has been driven primarily by amphetamine use which includes certain prescription drugs such as Adderall.
Although methamphetamine positivity in urine testing declined between 2005 and 2008, the positivity rate plateaued between 2008 and 2012, and has increased steadily since. Between 2012 and 2016, it climbed 64 percent in the general U.S. workforce and 14 percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers. In oral fluid, methamphetamines positivity increased 75 percent between 2013 (0.24 percent) and 2016 (0.42 percent).
Hair testing shows positivity for amphetamine use went from just 0.77 percent in 2012 to 1.5 percent in 2016 among the general U.S. workforce.
After four straight years of increases, in 2016, urine testing positivity for heroin, indicated by the presence of the 6-acetylmorphine (6-AM) metabolite, held steady in the general U.S. workforce and declined slightly among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers.