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Drug positivity in workforce rises to highest level in decade


Following years of declines, the percentage of employees in the combined U.S. workforce testing positive for drugs has steadily increased over the last three years to a 10-year high, according to an analysis of nearly 11 million workforce drug test results released by Quest Diagnostics.

The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index examined illicit drug use by America’s workforce based on an analysis of de-identified results of more than 9.5 million urine, 900,000 oral fluid, and 200,000 hair laboratory-based tests performed nationally by the company for employers in 2015.

Insights from the 2015 data show that the positivity rate for 9.5 million urine drug tests in the combined U.S. workforce increased 4 percent, up 2.6 percent over 2014 and a 14 percent increase over the 2010-2011 figures.

In oral fluid drug testing, the overall positivity rate increased 47 percent over the last three years in the general U.S. workforce to 9.1 percent in 2015 from 6.7 percent in 2013. The increase was largely driven by double-digit increases in marijuana positivity during this time period. Slightly more than nine percent of oral fluid test results were positive for one or more drugs, suggesting that nearly one in 11 job applicants were unable to pass an oral fluid drug screen.

Among drug testing methods, overall positivity in the general U.S. workforce was highest in hair drug tests, with 10.3 percent testing positive. Because hair testing shows repetitive drug use as far back as 90 days, it can give a more complete drug-use history. By comparison, urine detects recent or new drug use, typically in one to three days, and oral fluid detects recent drug use in the previous 24-48 hours.

In the general U.S. workforce, the rate of amphetamine, marijuana, and heroin detection have increased annually for the past five years in urine testing. Amphetamine positivity has increased 44 percent and marijuana positivity increased 26 percent since 2011. Almost half (45 percent) of individuals in the general U.S. workforce with a positive drug test for any substance in 2015 showed evidence of marijuana use.

Heroin positivity in that period, indicated by the presence of the 6-acetylmorphine marker (6-AM), increased 146 percent. The oxycodone positivity rate has declined annually since 2011, confirming previous research showing that opioid prescriptions have declined in 49 states since 2012.

“The DTI statistics for the last five years underscore the threat to employers – and employees – from drug abusers in our workplace. The numbers on hair testing – the methodology with the longest look-back and therefore a more telling measurement of regular use – show a 34-percent positive-rate increase for illegal drug use by the general workforce in the last five years,” said Mark de Bernardo, executive director, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. “However, all the numbers for various testing methodologies confirm this disturbing trend and should provide a wake-up call to employers to do more to combat workplace substance abuse and to do it more effectively.”