quest diagnostics annual survey shows drug test positivity rates continue to climb

Jackson Lewis P.C
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

According to the annual Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index published yesterday, illicit drug use among U.S. employees continues to rise, resulting in the highest drug test positivity rates in the last 12 years. This nationwide survey of more than 10 million workforce drug test results revealed:

Positive cocaine drug test results increased for a 4th straight year, resulting in a 12% increase in the general U.S. workforce in 2016.

Positive marijuana drug test results also increased among all three testing specimens (oral fluid, hair and urine). In Colorado and Washington (the first states to legalize recreational marijuana), positive marijuana test results increased 11% and 9% respectively, while the overall nationwide marijuana positivity rate increased 4%.

Similarly, since 2015, positive test results for amphetamines (including methamphetamines) increased by more than 8%. Positive test results for methamphetamines, in particular, increased 64% since 2012.

Heroin detection remained steady after four years of increases, while prescription opiate positivity declined slightly.

This increase in positive illicit drug test results occurred among both the general U.S. workforce and in safety-sensitive positions, such as pilots and truck drivers, for whom routine drug testing is mandatory under federal regulations.

Employers should consider whether they are equipped to respond to the upward trend in illicit drug use:

Consider whether your current drug testing practices adequately address the potential safety risks in your workplace. Review written drug testing policies and practices to ensure that they are up-to-date and compliant with all applicable federal, state and local testing requirements.

Merely conducting pre-employment drug testing may be insufficient. The Quest survey revealed that the positivity rate for cocaine in post–accident urine tests was more than twice that of pre-employment tests, indicating that employees may pass pre-employment tests, only to use illicit drugs during employment. Without adequate measures to detect illicit drug use during employment, employers (and employees) may be left vulnerable to workplace safety issues, and other negative impacts, arising out of workplace substance abuse.

The trend to legalize recreational marijuana continues in numerous states and will lead to more positive marijuana drug test results, as demonstrated by the increases in Colorado and Washington.

Training managers to identify potential illicit drug use at work and to enforce the Company’s drug testing policy is one of the greatest tools in addressing the myriad workplace issues posed by the use of illicit drugs.


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Owners Jim & Leeanne Mills envisioned making business owners’ lives easier by taking Background Screening, Drug Screening, & Job Applicant Assessment burdens off their plates.

After 21 years of Naval service riding nuclear submarines, we traded in our Navy life and then we worked in the For-Profit Education Industry hiring employees, managers & professors. While hiring new employees our experience using the available Background Check Process proved to be a very time consuming, challenging, frustrating and difficult one.