positive drug test

new trends in workforce drug useIn the early afternoon of Jan. 4, 1987, an Amtrak train crashed into a locomotive 18 miles northeast of Baltimore, causing 16 deaths and dozens of injuries. In post-accident drug and alcohol testing, the engineer driving the train tested positive for marijuana, although no one noticed anything unusual about his behavior before the crash that day.

The threat of workplace drug use was well-known even before the tragedy. Six years prior to the Amtrak incident, the crash of an aircraft aboard the USS Nimitz spurred an investigation by the U.S. military that found widespread use of drugs among U.S. Navy personnel.

These events helped prompt Congress to pass the Drug-Free Workplace Act in 1988 to address the issue of workforce drug use. The act requires certain federal contractors and all federal grantees to agree that they will provide drug-free workplaces as a condition of receiving a contract or grant from a federal agency. In 1991, the government also authorized mandatory random drug testing for employees in “safety-sensitive” jobs in industries regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Similarly, the explosive growth of crack cocaine in the United States in the mid-1980s focused attention on the workplace impact of drug use in the private sector. This led to the implementation of workplace drug education, monitoring and employee assistance programs for both public and private employees.

Thanks to the coordinated efforts of the medical and business communities, the rate of positive drug tests in the workforce has declined significantly among employers who have instituted a drug-free workplace policy since the implementation of the Drug-Free Workplace Act.

But this overall trend does not mean that employers, medical professionals, and policymakers can declare victory in the battle against drug use in the workplace. The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ 2016 report offers new evidence of the challenges ahead.

Based on analysis of more than 10 million workforce drug test results, Quest found that, while overall workplace positivity rates have dropped dramatically over the past two decades, drug positivity rates are climbing once again in the American workforce. In 1988, the first year of the Drug Testing Index, the overall positivity rate for all drugs was 13.6%. By 2016, that rate had fallen to 4.2%. While this is a major improvement, the workplace positivity rate has actually increased annually for the past five years and is now at its highest level since 2004.

The positivity rate in urine tests 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. Methamphetamine positivity has also been on the rise, climbing 64% in the general U.S. workforce and 14% among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers between 2012 and 2016.

The report also found that marijuana positivity continued to increase. In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, the marijuana positivity rate increased nearly 75% in the general workforce, from 5.1% in 2013 to 8.9% in 2016. Marijuana positivity also increased in tests of urine (2.5% in 2016 versus 2.4% in 2015) and hair (7.3% in 2016 versus 7.0% in 2015).

Quest examined state-level data for marijuana, including states with recreational use statutes. In Colorado and Washington, the first states in which recreational marijuana was legalized, the 2016 positivity rate for marijuana outpaced the national average for the first time since the statutes took effect in 2014. The national positivity rate increased 4% between 2015 and 2016, but jumped to 11% in Colorado and 9% in Washington in the same period.

Given this data, it seems reasonable to conclude that the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes will lead to increases in the rates of marijuana use in the workforce, which could affect more and more companies as the legalization movement spreads throughout the country. While current policy discussions are largely focused on marijuana, employers must not lose sight of the other trends in workforce drug positivity. Drug use of any kind can have a major impact on workplace safety and productivity. Employers need to be aware of the problem and take any necessary steps to protect their employees and their workplaces from the threat of drug use.

Robert L. DuPont, MD, is president of the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to reduce illegal drug use. He was the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (1973-1978) and second White House Drug Chief (1973-1977).

Risk Management magazine features analysis, insights and new from the Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS) The “New Trends in Workforce Drug Use” article was published on August 1, 2017.

For more information about drug testing, visit our website or contact us online.

The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ (DTI) reveals insights into patterns of drug use among the American workforce. It has been published annually for more than 25 years as a public service for government, employers, policymakers, media, and the general public. This year’s report will be presented at the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) annual conference, a gathering of industry professionals focused on safety, regulatory affairs, ethics, and workplace drug testing education from all over the world.

In examining the latest data, Barry Sample, Ph.D., Senior Director of Science and Technology at Quest Diagnostics, 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.” He noted the following key findings from millions of workplace drug test results.

  • Overall positivity in urine drug testing among the combined U.S. workforce in 2016 was 4.2 percent, a five percent relative increase over last year’s rate of 4.0 percent, and the highest annual positivity rate since 2004 (4.5 percent).
  • Cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine use is up broadly among the U.S. workforce across multiple drug test specimen types and testing populations.
  • Cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28 percent.
  • The positivity rate for cocaine in post-accident urine drug tests was more than twice that of pre-employment urine drug tests in both the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive and the general U.S. workforces.
  • In Colorado and Washington, the overall urine positivity rate for marijuana outpaced the national average in 2016 for the first time since the recreational statutes took effect.
  • Year over year marijuana positivity increased nearly 75 percent in oral fluid testing. In addition, positivity increased in both urine and hair testing in the general U.S. workforce.
  • Between 2012 and 2016, methamphetamine positivity climbed 64 percent in the general U.S. workforce and 14 percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers.
  • Heroin detection, indicated by the presence of the 6-acetylmorphine (6-AM) metabolite, plateaued in the general U.S. workforce while prescription opiate detection declines.

“Once again, the DTI statistics reveal the on-going 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.”

Along with this year’s data, we are offering an interactive map to illustrate overall positivity and positivity by drug for the past 10 years in urine testing. Users can search by both zip code and year for six illicit drugs: 6-AM (heroin metabolite), amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and PCP at QuestDiagnostics.com/DrugMap.

Workplace drug testing promotes a safe, healthy and productive environment for employees. Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should be aware of the potential for drug use among their workforce.

Media coverage for the Drug Testing Index includes an exclusive story by The Wall Street Journal. Other press featuring the DTI includes: The Washington Post, CNBC’s Closing BellTIME magazineFortune, CBS Money WatchViceMarketWatchThe Chicago Tribune, Facility Safety Management, Business InsuranceInsurance Journal, Daily Republic, FOX Denver,  Newsday, NJBIANew Jersey’s NJ.comPittsburgh Post-Gazette, North Nevada Business Weekly, Dayton Daily News, Brevard Times, The National Law Review, PoliticoThe TruckerHR DiveMedical Laboratory Observer: LabLineCrime Report, Drug ChronicleSteelers LoungeSector PublishingDaily Caller, Newsmax Wires, RTBulk Transporter, Lexology, Daily Chew, NCASJunior College, Industry Week, Salon, ExamOne blogWSJ: The 10-Point, Construction Equipment, EHS Today, Kansas City Star, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Business Journal, USA Today: LouisvilleHuman Resources Executive, Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), and USA TODAY Snapshot.

In addition, the Jimmy Kimmel Live show asked cited Quest Diagnostics data and in its Pedestrian Question segment asked people if they have ever been high at work.

Read the full press release for the latest DTI data as well as drug testing news and resources.

Download our new Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index brochure and the this year’s DTI infographics.

For more information about drug testing, visit our QuestDiagnostics.com/DTI or contact us online.

Common Questions about Marijuana

April 28, 2017Illicit drugs

Many employers continue to ask questions about marijuana in the era of state legislation surrounding medical and recreational use statutes. In an effort to provide information about topics related to the science, drug testing, policy, and the law, Quest Diagnostics experts have provided responses to the some of the most frequently asked questions we receive […]

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By the Numbers: Positivity by Drug

October 6, 2016By the Numbers

Our By the Numbers series takes a closer look at the numbers, facts, data, and outputs that impact workplace drug testing programs. In this post,we take a closer look at positivity by drug which the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ (DTI) measures using a combination of three factors: drug category, specimen type, and workforce segment. […]

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Ask the Experts: Effects of Hair Treatments on Drug Test Results

June 27, 2016Hair testing

Question: Can products and treatments affect hair drug test results?  Some employers who use hair testing as part of their workplace drug testing program wonder if hair products – like shampoos, sprays, gels, coloring, bleaching, and perming – can have an impact on their test results. We asked Dr. Barry Sample, Director of Science and […]

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Does Workplace Drug Testing Work?

April 15, 2016News

As marijuana becomes more widely accepted, some are questioning if workplace drug testing for marijuana and other illicit drugs is appropriate or even necessary. Some argue that the so-called “war on drugs” is over and, therefore, drug testing provides no value. Yet, the reality is that there is a wealth of empirical research conducted by […]

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Thwarting Drug Test Cheaters

January 4, 2011Urine testing

Employers who drug test their applicants and employees depend on the results of these tests to help ensure safer, more productive, drug free workplaces. With this in mind, employers must do everything possible to prevent drug-abusing workers and job applicants from successfully altering test results and thus undermining the benefits of their drug testing program. […]

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Aiming for Drug-Free Workplaces

April 28, 2008Drug Testing

At Quest Diagnostics, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of drug testing. Whether it is pre-employment testing or a random test, keeping drug users out of your workforce makes sense from productivity standpoint, from a safety standpoint and from a financial standpoint. We spend so much time talking about these things, that […]

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