Research/studies Drugs

Positive drug tests among U.S. workers remain at 13-year high: annual index

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Ft. Lauderdale, FL — In 2017, positive tests for illicit drugs in the American workforce remained at their highest level in more than a decade, according to the annual Drug Testing Index from lab services provider Quest Diagnostics.

Researchers analyzed more than 10 million drug test results and found that 4.2 percent of the combined U.S. workforce (both the general workforce and those who undergo federally mandated drug testing) tested positive for the second straight year. That is the highest percentage of positive tests since 2004 (4.5 percent). It was at a 30-year low of 3.5 percent as recently as 2012.

Increases in cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine use helped keep the percentage of positive tests at a relatively elevated level, the researchers said.

Other findings:

  • Positive results for meth increased between 9 percent and 25 percent this past year in portions of the Midwest, East and South.
  • The percentage of positive cocaine tests increased for the fifth consecutive year for each type of testing method (urine, oral fluid and hair testing). Positive results also increased for the third straight year for safety-sensitive workers – including pilots, nuclear power plant workers and commercial motor vehicle/railroad operators – who are subject to federally required drug testing.
  • Two states that have legalized recreational marijuana use since 2016, Nevada and Massachusetts, had the largest increases in positive tests for the drug: 43 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Nevada also had an increase of 39 percent in positive tests among safety-sensitive workers. Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use.

Also of note, positive urine tests for opiates decreased 17 percent. The number of opioid prescriptions has declined each year from 2013 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s unfortunate that we mark 30 years of the Drug-Free Workplace Act with clear evidence that drugs continue to invade the country’s workplaces,” Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics, said in the release. “Not only have declines appeared to have bottomed out, but also in some drug classes and areas of the country drug positivity rates are increasing. These changing patterns and geographical variations may challenge the ability of employers to anticipate the ‘drug of choice’ for their workforce or where to best focus their drug prevention efforts to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.”

The results of the study were presented at the Federal Transit Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Program National Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

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