Workforce drug positivity testing hits 14-year high, Quest says

Jessica Perry//April 12, 2019

Workforce drug positivity testing hits 14-year high, Quest says

Jessica Perry//April 12, 2019



As questions of how and when adult-use marijuana will be legalized hang in the air in the Garden State, a new report finds that workforce drug positivity testing hit a 14-year high in 2018—with cannabis coming up as still the most commonly detected substance.

Despite declines in affirmative results for opiates, oxycodones, heroin and cocaine, The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index released Thursday at the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association in Chicago shows an increase in overall positivity results, results for the presence of marijuana, and for post-accident positivity testing results.

For overall positivity in the combined workforce, results were up by nearly 5 percent in urine drug tests, at their highest since 2004, and 25 percent higher than the 3.5 percent rate – a 30-year low – that ran from 2010 to 2012.

The index is based upon a series of reports examining workforce-drug-use trends by using de-identified positivity results – from more than ten million workplace drug tests– for lab testing performed by Secaucus-based Quest Diagnostics for illicit, prescription and legal drugs.

It categorizes employees three ways: The general workforce, federally mandated, safety-sensitive workers, and the combined U.S. workforce. Federally mandated, safety-sensitive workers are required to undergo routine drug testing by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Quest said. Such occupations include pilots, bus and truck drivers, and workers in nuclear power plants.

Marijuana results were up in nearly all workforce categories. It was up 8 percent in the general workforce year-over-year for urine testing, and up almost 17 percent from 2014. In the federally mandated/safety-sensitive workforce positivity was up almost 5 percent year-over-year and up nearly 24 percent since 2014.

“Our in-depth analysis shows that marijuana is not only present in our workforce, but use continues to increase,” said Barry Sample, senior director, Science and Technology, Quest Diagnostics. “As marijuana policy changes, and employers consider strategies to protect their employees, customers and general public, employers should weigh the risks that drug use, including marijuana, poses to their business.”

Post-accident urine testing also saw a rise, going up more than 51 percent year-over-year in the federally mandated/safety-sensitive workforce (that’s up almost 81 percent from 2014 – 2018) and up 9 percent year-over-year in the general workforce. According to Quest, the 2018 jump is due largely to the addition of prescription opiates to the panel. Despite that, positivity results have risen steadily in the general workforce since 2011 and in the federally mandated/safety-sensitive workforce since 2010.

Also up: The amount of people trying to cheat on drug tests. The Quest Index found that from 2017 to 2018 the number of urine samples reported invalid – due to “inconsistency with normal human urine” – increased by 40 percent and 80 percent, respectively, for the general workforce and federally mandated/safety sensitive workforce.

Going down

Opiate use declined in urine testing across all categories, Quest found. For the general workforce this marked the largest drop in three years: Down 21 percent year-over-year and down nearly 37 percent from a peak in 2015. Positivity testing was down more than 29 percent year-over-year and more than 46 percent from 2014’s five-year high.

Heroin urine tests were down 6 percent in the general workforce and 32 percent in the federally mandated/safety-sensitive workforce year-over-year and down 16 percent since peaking in 2015 and 2016 for the general workforce. For the federally mandated/safety-sensitive workforce positivity was down 43 percent since 2015.

Cocaine results were down nearly 7 percent in urine testing, more than 19 percent in oral testing, but actually increased 6.3 percent year-over-year in hair testing. For the federally mandated/safety-sensitive workforce results for cocaine were down almost 10 percent, compared to 2017 when it had hit its highest rate in five years.

Quest has analyzed and published workplace drug testing data since 1988.