Report: Employee Drug Use on the Rise in the US

Report: Employee Drug Use on the Rise in the US

Quest Diagnostics’ Drug Testing Index, which analyzed some 11 million workplace drug test results, found that the percentage of US employees who tested positive for drugs hit a ten-year high in 2015:

Insights from the 2015 data show that the positivity rate for 9.5 million urine drug tests in the combined U.S. workforce increased to four percent, a relative change of 2.6 percent over the positivity rate in 2014 (4.0% versus 3.9%). The 2015 positivity rate reflects a relative increase of 14 percent over the 10-year low of 3.5 percent observed in both 2010 and 2011. The last year that the positivity rate for urine drug tests in the combined U.S. workforce was at or above four percent was 2005, when it reached 4.1 percent. …

In oral fluid drug testing, the overall positivity rate increased 47 percent over the last three years in the general U.S. workforce to 9.1 percent in 2015 from 6.7 percent in 2013. The increase was largely driven by double-digit increases in marijuana positivity during this time period. In 2015, there was a 25 percent relative increase in marijuana detection as compared to 2014 (7.5% versus 6.0%). Slightly more than nine percent of oral fluid test results were positive for one or more drugs, suggesting that nearly one in eleven job applicants were unable to pass an oral fluid drug screen.

Among drug testing methods, overall positivity in the general U.S. workforce was highest in hair drug tests, at 10.3 percent in 2015, a seven percent increase over 2014 (9.6%) Because hair testing shows repetitive drug use as far back as 90 days, it can give a more complete drug-use history.

The Wall Street Journal’s Lauren Weber hears more from the Quest director in charge of the analysis about which drugs employees have been using—you can probably guess which one is the most common:

Marijuana “remains America’s favorite illegal drug,” said Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest’s employer solutions business. Nearly half of all workplace positive tests are for marijuana, with the number holding steady from 2014. While states that have legalized some form of the drug exhibit higher marijuana positivity rates, the numbers didn’t increase in Colorado and Washington from 2014, said Dr. Sample.

“We’ve heard concerns from some employers [in those states] about the difficulty in identifying and hiring workers that will pass the drug test primarily because of marijuana positives, but when we look at our macro picture, our data doesn’t necessarily bear that out,” he said.

More troubling was an increase in detection of heroin. While the numbers are relatively small—less than one-tenth of 1% of all drug tests—heroin positives increased 146% in the general workforce between 2011 and 2015 and 84% in the safety-sensitive workforce. Heroin use has increased in part because of a crackdown on abuse of prescription opiates such as hydrocodone, said Dr. Sample. Drug users turn to heroin when it is “more difficult or expensive to obtain extra prescriptions from physicians, or buy diverted pharmaceutical products” illegally, he said.