The percentage of workers in the United States testing positive for illicit drug use has reached a 10-year high, according to Quest Diagnostics’ latest Drug Testing Index, released today at the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association annual conference in Louisville, Ky.
“Our nationally representative analysis clearly shows that drug use by the American workforce is on the rise, and this trend extends to several different classes of drugs and categories of drug tests,” says Barry Sample, Quest Diagnostics’ senior director of its employer solutions unit. “The 2015 findings related to post-accident testing results should also be of concern to employers, especially those with safety-sensitive employees.”
The Drug Testing Index examines illicit drug use based on an analysis of de-identified results of nearly 11 million workforce drug tests, including 9.5 million urine, 900,000 oral fluid and 200,000 hair laboratory-based tests performed by Quest Diagnostics last year. The analysis shows that the positivity rate for the urine drug tests increased to 4 percent in 2015, compared to 3.9 percent the previous year and up by 14 percent over the 10-year low of 3.5 percent in 2010 and 2011. The last year that the positivity rate for urine drug tests in the combined U.S. workforce matched or exceeded 4 percent was in 2005, when it was 4.1 percent, said Quest.
Post-accident drug testing of workers also yielded more positive results last year, up by 6.2 percent compared to 2014 (6.9 percent versus 6.5 percent). The 2015 number represents a 30-percent increase since 2011, when it was 5.3 percent.
The urine-test positivity rates for heroin, amphetamines and marijuana have increased steadily among U.S. workers since 2011, with amphetamine positivity up by 44 percent, marijuana positivity up by 26 percent and heroin positivity (as indicated by the presence of the 6-acetylmorphine marker) up by 146 percent, according to Quest Diagnostics. Nearly half of U.S. workers who test positive for any drug substance in 2015 showed evidence of marijuana use, the company reports.
The silver lining in the report is that the oxycodone positivity rate has declined for each year since 2011, confirming that opioid prescriptions have declined in 49 states since 2012.
“This report shows a welcome decline in workplace drug test positives for certain prescription opiates but a disturbing increase in heroin positives,” says Dr. Robert DuPont, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “This rise in heroin should concern both policymakers and employers. Substance abuse is a safety risk for everyone.”
Although some may be tempted to point a blaming finger at states like Colorado and Washington, which were among the first to legalize the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana, positivity rates among workers in those two states did not grow from 2014, Sample told the Wall Street Journal.
“We’ve heard concerns from employers [in those states] about the difficulty in finding and hiring workers that will pass the drug test primarily because of marijuana positives, but when we look at our macro picture, our data doesn’t necessarily bear that out,” he said.