Analysis Finds Workforce Drug Positivity at Highest Rate in a Decade

Analysis Finds Workforce Drug Positivity at Highest Rate in a Decade

The national positivity rate for the combined American workforce remained at 4.2 percent in 2017, the same rate as 2016 but an increase over the 3.5 percent positivity rate from 2012, a 30-year low. Quest Diagnostics' analysis also suggests changing patterns of drug use, with cocaine, amphetamines, and marijuana positivity rising in some areas of the United States and prescription opiate positivity rates declining nationally.

Drug use by the U.S. workforce remains at its highest rate in more than a decade, according to a new analysis released May 8 by Quest Diagnostics. Among its findings, released at the FTA Drug and Alcohol Program National Conference, were that Quest Diagnostics saw increases in cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana use.

The national positivity rate for the combined American workforce remained at 4.2 percent in 2017, the same rate as 2016 but an increase over the 3.5 percent positivity rate from 2012, a 30-year low. Quest Diagnostics' analysis also suggests changing patterns of drug use, with cocaine, amphetamines, and marijuana positivity rising in some areas of the United States and prescription opiate positivity rates declining nationally.

This year marks 30 consecutive years of the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index, an analysis of trends in national workplace drug positivity based on Quest Diagnostics' de-identified lab data. In 1988, the year the Drug-Free Workplace Act was signed into law, the DTI analysis found an overall drug positivity rate among American workers of 13.6 percent.

In its analysis, Quest Diagnostics found that the positivity rate for cocaine increased for the fifth consecutive year in the general American workforce across every specimen type. In addition, an analysis of trends in the general U.S. workforce based on the four U.S. Census regions found large increases in positivity rates for methamphetamine.

Positivity rates for marijuana have continued to increase in urine testing for both the general workforce and the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, increasing 4 percent in the general workforce (2.5 percent in 2016 vs. 2.6 percent in 2017) and almost 8 percent in the safety-sensitive workforce (0.78 percent versus 0.84 percent). These increases were most prevalent in states that had enacted recreational use statutes since 2016.

Nationally, the general U.S. workforce's positivity rate for opiates in urine drug testing declined 17 percent between 2016 and 2017, with oxycodone positivity declining 12 percent, hydrocodone positivity declining 17 percent, and hydromorphone positivity declining 22 percent during that time period. Other than codeine, the DTI found opiates at their lowest positivity rate in more than a decade.

Quest Diagnostics' workforce drug testing services generally test for drugs and metabolites associated with prescription opiates and semi-synthetic opiates and do not typically test for synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

"Thirty years in, this year's results again demonstrate the ever-evolving threat that substance abuse poses to workplace safety. With the prescription opiate crisis filling the headlines, the significant drop in opiate positivity is a promising sign," said Matt Nieman, general counsel, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and principal, Jackson Lewis P.C. "Yet, the ten-year high in positivity rates—spurred by nationwide surges in cocaine and methamphetamine positivity, as well as double-digit marijuana spikes in states with newly implemented recreational laws—serves as a stark warning that efforts to prevent substance abuse in the workplace are as important today as ever."

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