Following years of declines, the percentage of employees in the combined U.S. workforce testing positive for drug use has steadily increased over the last three years to a 10-year high, according to an analysis of nearly 11 million workforce drug test results released today by Quest Diagnostics.

The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ examines illicit drug use by America's workforce based on an analysis of de-identified results of more than 9.5 million urine, 900,000 oral fluid, and 200,000 hair laboratory-based tests performed nationally by the company for employers in 2015.

drugs-in-the-workplaceInsights 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%, a relative change of 2.6% over the positivity rate in 2014 (4.0% versus 3.9%).

The 2015 positivity rate reflects a relative increase of 14% over the 10-year low of 3.5% 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 4% was 2005, when it reached 4.1%.

Post-Accident Drug Abuse

Another notable trend is the rising positivity rate for post-accident urine drug testing in both the general U.S. and federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforces.

Post-accident positivity increased 6.2% in 2015 when compared to 2014 (6.9% versus 6.5%) and increased 30% since 2011 (5.3%).

In addition, post-accident positivity for the safety-sensitive workforce has risen 22% during a five-year time period (2.8% in 2015 versus 2.3% in 2011).

In 2015, there was a 25% relative increase in marijuana detection.
In oral fluid drug testing, the overall positivity rate increased 47% over the last three years in the general U.S. workforce to 9.1% in 2015 from 6.7% in 2013.

The increase was largely driven by double-digit increases in marijuana positivity during this time period.

In 2015, there was a 25% relative increase in marijuana detection as compared to 2014 (7.5% versus 6.0%).

Slightly more than 9% of oral fluid test results were positive for one or more drugs, suggesting that nearly one in eleven job applicants was 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% in 2015, a 7% 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.

By comparison, urine detects recent or new drug use, typically in one to three days, and oral fluid detects recent drug use in the previous 24–48 hours.

Big Increase in Heroin Positivity

In the general U.S. workforce, the rate of amphetamine, marijuana, and heroin detection increased annually for the past five years in urine testing.

Amphetamine positivity increased 44% and marijuana positivity increased 26% since 2011; almost half (45%) of individuals in the general U.S. workforce with a positive drug test for any substance in 2015 showed evidence of marijuana use.

This rise in heroin should concern both policymakers and employers.
Heroin positivity in that period, indicated by the presence of the 6-acetylmorphine marker (6-AM), increased 146%.

The Oxycodone positivity rate has declined annually since 2011, confirming previous research showing that opioid prescriptions have declined in 49 states since 2012.

‘Wake-Up Call to Employers’

"Our nationally representative analysis clearly shows that drug use by the American workforce is on the rise, and this trend extends to several different classes of drugs and categories of drug tests," says Barry Sample, Ph.D., senior director, science and technology, Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions.

"The 2015 findings related to post-accident testing results should also be of concern to employers, especially those with safety-sensitive employees."

"The DTI statistics for the last five years underscore the threat to employers—and employees—from drug abusers in our workplace,” says Mark de Bernardo, executive director, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace.

“The numbers on hair testing—the methodology with the longest look-back and therefore a more telling measurement of regular use—show a 34% positive-rate increase for illegal drug use by the general workforce in the last five years."

This disturbing trend should be a wake-up call to employers to do more to combat workplace substance abuse.
"However, all the numbers for various testing methodologies confirm this disturbing trend and should provide a wake-up call to employers to do more to combat workplace substance abuse and to do it more effectively."

Among urine test results indicating drug use for federally-mandated, safety-sensitive employees, heroin positivity increased a relative 4.5% since 2014, and a relative 84% since 2011. In addition, positive test results for safety-sensitive workers showed a seven% year-over-year increase in amphetamines (0.58 % in 2015 versus 0.54 % in 2014).

"This report shows a welcome decline in workplace drug test positives for certain prescription opiates but a disturbing increase in heroin positives,” says Robert DuPont, M.D., former director or the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“This rise in heroin should concern both policymakers and employers. Substance abuse is a safety risk for everyone.”