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Employee Drug Use Continues to Rise

Employee Drug Use Continues to Rise
Credit: Video_Creative/Shutterstock

The number of employees failing drug tests is at its highest rate in more than a decade, new research finds.

A study from Quest Diagnostics revealed that 4.2 percent of the U.S. workforce tested positive for illicit drugs in 2016, the highest rate since 2004. The surge in failed drug tests was driven by increases in marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine use.

"This year's findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations," said Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, in a statement. "Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should be alert to the potential for drug use among their workforce."

The research shows that positive urine tests for cocaine increased for the fourth consecutive year. Specifically, cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016 among all U.S. workers, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28 percent. [Looking for a background check service? Here are the ones we recommend]

"While the national dialogue swirls around marijuana and opiate issues, we find cocaine – a substance with well-established dangers – continuing its troubling upswing not just in the general workforce, but in safety-sensitive jobs with federally mandated testing," said Matt Nieman, general counsel for the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and a principal with Jackson Lewis P.C. "That positive test results for cocaine persist, let alone are increasing, should serve as a reminder to employers and employees that there is no substitute for vigilance in any effective effort to thwart the potential impacts of workplace substance abuse."

Positive tests for marijuana also continue to rise. In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75 percent, from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016 in the general U.S. workforce. Marijuana positivity also increased in both urine testing and hair testing.

The study found that, for the first time since recreational marijuana use was legalized in Colorado and Washington, failed tests in those states outpaced the national average. Positive tests increased in Colorado by 11 percent and Washington by 9 percent.

"We have been tracking the trends in marijuana positivity in states that have passed medical and recreational marijuana use statutes for several years now," Sample said. "2016 is the first year since Colorado and Washington approved recreational use that the rates of year-over-year change were sharply higher than the national average."

While failed tests for amphetamines, which includes amphetamine and methamphetamine, decreased between 2005 and 2008 and plateaued between 2008 and 2012, positive tests have increased by more than 64 percent over the past four years.

The research did find that after four consecutive years of increases, positive tests for heroin held steady in 2016. In addition, prescription opiate positivity, including hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodone, dropped in urine testing among the general U.S. workforce. This was the fourth year in a row that failed tests for opiates declined.

The annual study examines test results according to three categories of workers: federally mandated, safety-sensitive workers; the general workforce; and the combined U.S. workforce.


Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer with more than 20 years of media experience. A graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff as a senior writer. Currently, Chad covers a wide range of B2B products and services, including business phone systems, time and attendance systems, payroll services, and conference call services. Before joining Business News Daily and business.com, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. Chad's first book, "How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business," was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.