Positive workplace drug tests highest in decade: Study

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Drug use by the American workforce remains at its highest rate in more than a decade, with marijuana use rising in states that legalized it recreationally, according to an analysis released Tuesday by Quest Diagnostics Inc.

The Secaucus, New Jersey-based medical diagnostics firm said it examined more than 10 million workplace drug test results and found that increases in cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana resulted in a positivity rate for the combined U.S. workforce of 4.2% in 2017. The latest figure is the same as in 2016, but a dramatic increase over the 3.5% positivity rate from 2012, which represented a 30-year low, Quest said in a statement.

Researchers believe the analysis of 2017 data suggests shifting patterns of drug use, with cocaine and amphetamines positivity surging in some areas of the country and marijuana positivity rising sharply in states with newer recreational use statutes, according to the release.

Other findings included:

  • The positivity rate for cocaine increased for the fifth consecutive year in the general U.S. workforce across every specimen type. In urine testing, the most common drug test specimen type, the positivity rate for cocaine increased 7% in the general U.S. workforce (0.28% in 2016 versus 0.30% in 2017). Year-over-year increases were also observed in the general U.S. workforce in oral fluid testing (up 16%) and hair testing (19%).
  • Cocaine positivity in urine testing increasing significantly in certain states with double-digit year-over-year increases in at least four of the five past years were seen in the states of Nebraska (91% increase between 2016 and 2017), Idaho (88% increase), Washington (31%), Nevada (25%), Maryland (22% increase) and Wisconsin (13%).
  • An analysis of trends in the general U.S. workforce based on the four U.S. Census regions identified large increases of methamphetamine positivity rates. Between 2013 and 2017, methamphetamine positivity increased between 140% and 167% in several regions nationwide.
  • Marijuana positivity continued its five-year upward trajectory in urine testing for both the general U.S. workforce and the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce. Marijuana positivity increased 4% in the general U.S. workforce and nearly 8% in the safety-sensitive workforce.
  • Increases in positivity rates for marijuana in the general U.S. workforce were highest in states that have enacted recreational use statues since 2016, including: Nevada (43% increase), Massachusetts (14%) and California (11%). These three states also saw significant increases in marijuana positivity in federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers: Nevada (39%), California (20%) and Massachusetts (11%)
  • The positivity rate for opiates in the general U.S. workforce in urine drug testing declined 17% between 2016 and 2017 (0.47% versus 0.39%).

“It’s unfortunate that we mark 30 years of the Drug-Free Workplace Act with clear evidence that drugs continue to invade the country’s workplaces,” Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics, said in the statement. “Not only have declines appeared to have bottomed out, but also in some drug classes and areas of the country drug positivity rates are increasing. These changing patterns and geographical variations may challenge the ability of employers to anticipate the ‘drug of choice’ for their workforce or where to best focus their drug prevention efforts to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.”

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