News and Articles


Print Page


Workforce Drug Test Positivity Hits Highest Rate in 12 Years, Quest Diagnostics Reports

Jul 13, 2017

Drug use in the American workforce, fueled by illicit drugs, reached the highest positivity rate in 12 years, according to an analysis of more than 10 million workforce drug test results assessed by Quest Diagnostics. Overall, positivity in urine drug testing among the combined U.S. workforce in 2016 was 4.2%, the highest annual positivity rate since 2004 (4.5%).

“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,” says Quest’s Barry Sample. “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.”

Among the drugs tested for, Quest says that positivity for cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine continued upward trends. The positivity rate in urine testing for cocaine increased for the fourth consecutive year (to a 7-year high of 0.28%) in the general U.S. workforce and for the second consecutive year in the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, the company reports. “The statistics reveal the ongoing threat to workplace safety posed by substance abuse. While the national dialogue swirls around marijuana and opiate issues, we find cocaine . . . continuing its troubling upswing not just in the general workforce, but in safety-sensitive jobs with federally mandated testing,” says Matt Nieman, general counsel for the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and principal, Jackson Lewis PC. 

Similarly, marijuana positivity increased in both the federally mandated, safety-sensitive and general U.S. workforces. According to Quest, in oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased by nearly 75% in the general U.S. workforce, up from 5.1% in 2013 to 8.9% in 2016. Marijuana positivity also increased in both urine testing (from 2.4% in 2015 to 2.5% in 2016) and hair testing (from 7.0% to 7.3%) in the same population.

Among the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, which only utilizes urine testing, marijuana positivity increased nearly 10% (from 0.71% to 0.78%), the largest year-over-year increase in 5 years, the company says. 

Methamphetamine positivity continued its year-over-year upward trend as well, increasing more than 8% in urine testing in both the general U.S. and federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforces. Although methamphetamine positivity in urine testing declined between 2005 and 2008, Quest says  the rate has risen steadily since 2012. “Between 2012 and 2016, it climbed 64% in the general U.S. workforce and 14% among federally mandated, safety-sensitive workers. In oral fluid, methamphetamine positivity increased 75% between 2013 (0.24%) and 2016 (0.42%).”

Originally published July 13, 2017


Are You Passionate About Safety?

Volunteer with ASSP today.

Get involved


President's Message

Read the ASSP president's thoughts on the safety profession.

ISO 45001 Standard

This game-changing standard provides a global foundation for worker safety.