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Workforce Drug Test Positivity Rate Up, Quest Diagnostics Reports

This is the first time in more than a decade that it has increased, according to the company's Drug Testing Index™ analysis of 8.5 million workplace drug tests. The data were released Sept. 8.

The percentage of positive drug tests among American workers has risen for the first time in more than a decade, Quest Diagnostics reported Sept. 8. The company's analysis of 8.5 million urine, oral fluid, and hair workplace drug test results, the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index, showed that the positivity rate for 7.6 million urine drug tests in the combined U.S. workforce increased to 3.7 percent in 2013, up from to 3.5 percent in 2012. The increase of 5.7 percent year-over-year is the first time the rate for combined national workplace urine drug tests has increased since 2003; Quest Diagnostics has analyzed annual workplace drug testing data since 1988.

Marijuana is the most commonly detected illegal drug in urine tests, and the company's report also showed double-digit positivity rate increases for Colorado and Washington state, the two states that have legalized recreational marijuana use. Marijuana positivity in the combined U.S. workforce increased by 6.2 percent, to 1.7 percent in 2013 compared to 1.6 percent in 2012; in the safety-sensitive workforce, marijuana positivity increased 5.6 percent (0.67 percent in 2013 vs. 0.63 percent in 2012). But urine drug test data for the combined U.S. workforce from Colorado and Washington showed their marijuana positivity rates increased by 20 and 23 percent, respectively, in the general workforce between 2012 and 2013, compared to the 5 percent average increase among the U.S. general workforce in all 50 states. Significantly, the report shows that both experienced dramatic increases in marijuana positivity rates prior to legalization at the end of 2012: From 2009 to 2010, Colorado experienced a 22 percent increase and Washington a 10 percent decline in positivity. From 2011 to 2012, Colorado experienced a 3 percent increase and Washington an 8 percent increase in positivity.

"Washington and Colorado are believed by many to foreshadow future trends in 'recreational' marijuana use. While Quest's Drug Testing Index shows dramatic spikes in marijuana positivity rates over the past year, a longer view of the data suggests a more complex picture," said Dr. Barry Sample, director, science and technology, for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. "It is possible that relaxed societal views of marijuana use in those two states, relative to others, may in part be responsible for the recent increase in positivity rates. Yet this doesn't explain why both states also experienced steep rises – and declines – in positivity in recent years. We will be very interested to see how our data evolves over the next year or two in these two states relative to those that have not legalized so-called 'recreational' marijuana."

The 2013 Drug Testing Index analyzed urine, oral fluid, and hair drug tests performed by Quest Diagnostics workplace drug testing laboratories across the United States. Test results are analyzed according to three categories of workers: employees with private companies (U.S. general workforce); employees subject to federal drug testing rules, including safety-sensitive truck drivers, train operators, airline, and nuclear power plant workers (federally mandated safety-sensitive workers); and a combination of both groups (combined U.S. workforce).

"After years of declines, the prevalence of positive workforce drug tests is increasing," said Sample. "This increase indicates that employers should be aware of the potential for drug use by their workers and the risk that represents for the health and safety of their employees and the public. What we do know is that workforce positivity for marijuana is definitely on the rise across the United States. It is important for people to remember that while some states have legalized marijuana, the federal government has not. Employers generally have the authority to restrict the 'recreational' use of marijuana by employees and impose sanctions, including termination, on employees with positive drug tests in all 50 states."

For more information about the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index, visit www.QuestDiagnostics.com/DTI.

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