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 ten million workforce drug test results by Quest Diagnostics, a provider of diagnostic information services. The annual Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index found that 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.


“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,” says 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.”


For instance, 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—such as pilots, bus and truck drivers, and workers in nuclear power plants. Cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016 in the general U.S. workforce, and seven percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers.


“Once again, the DTI statistics reveal the on-going threat to workplace safety posed by substance abuse,” says Matt Nieman, General Counsel, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and Principal at law firm, Jackson Lewis P.C. “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. 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.”


Marijuana positivity continued to climb in the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce and general U.S. workforces as well. In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75 percent. Among the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, which only uses urine testing, marijuana positivity increased nearly 10 percent, the largest year-over-year increase in five years.


Interestingly, 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, than in Washington, which increased nine percent.


Amphetamines, including amphetamine and methamphetamine, positivity continued its year-over-year upward trend, increasing more than eight 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.


Finally, after four straight years of increases, urine testing positivity for heroin in 2016 held steady in the general U.S. workforce while it declined slightly among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers. Prescription opiate positivity—including hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodones—declined in urine testing among the general U.S. workforce. This may be due to efforts of state and federal authorities to more tightly control prescribing opiates.


What are your thoughts about increasing drug use in the U.S., and in the workplace? Secondly, do you think it’s more difficult to hire prospects who can pass required drug tests?