Research/studies Drugs

Positive drug tests for U.S. workers remain near historic highs: annual index

Photo: Sundry Photography/iStockphoto

Secaucus, NJ — Paced by sharp rises in marijuana positivity rates, the positive drug test rate for U.S. workers continued at a historically high level in 2020, according to an annual analysis conducted by lab services provider Quest Diagnostics.

Researchers examined the results of more than 7 million samples taken last year for Quest Diagnostics’ Drug Testing Index from the combined U.S. workforce – both the general workforce and employees in safety-sensitive jobs who undergo federally mandated drug testing. Overall, 4.4% of the samples tested positive – down from a 16-year high of 4.5% in 2019, but still higher than the 30-year low of 3.5% recorded in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Among all workers, urine samples had a marijuana positivity rate of 3.6% last year, up from 3.1% in 2019 – a 16.1% increase. Positive results from saliva (12.3% last year vs. 9.1% in 2019) and hair samples (8.7% last year vs. 7.1% in 2019) also jumped by double-digit percentages year over year: 35.2 and 22.5, respectively. Among the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, urine samples had a marijuana positivity rate of 0.79% last year, down from 0.88% in 2019 – a 10.2% decline.


Other findings:

  • By industry, retail trade and accommodation/food services had the highest overall positivity rate, at 6.2%. That figure marks a 21.6% jump from 2019 for the latter industry.
  • Transportation and warehousing had the highest overall positivity rate increase between 2016 and 2020, at 41.9%.
  • Construction had the highest positivity rate for cocaine (0.32%) and methamphetamines (0.21%).
  • Finance/insurance experienced a 50% jump in positive marijuana samples from 2019 to 2020, the largest increase of any industry, while accommodation/food services (6.3%) had the highest rate in 2020.
  • Among the general workforce, the positivity rate for cocaine fell 18.5% in 2020 (0.22% last year vs. 0.27% in 2019).
  • The rate of positive cocaine tests among the general workforce has dropped 21.4% since 2016.

The results of the analysis were unveiled during the National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association’s annual conference, which took place May 25-27 in St. Louis.

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)