U.S. workers testing positive for illicit drugs at record rates

According to a report from Quest Diagnostics – one of the largest independent diagnostic service providers – the share of U.S. workers testing positive for illicit drug use has reached its highest level in a decade.

Quest’s Annual Drug Testing Index analyzed nearly 11 million workforce drug test results and found that positivity rates for illicit drugs – ranging from marijuana to heroin to methamphetamine – increased slightly for both the general workforce and for safety-sensitive positions such as pilots and bus and truck drivers.

Overall, four percent of the 9.5 million employees who submitted to urine-based drug tests in 2015 tested positive for illicit drugs, marking the first time since 2005 that the positivity rate for those tests eclipsed the four percent mark.

Post-accident urine drug testing was an arena that saw a noticeable uptick in positivity results, increasing from 6.2 percent from 2014 to 2015 and 30 percent overall during the past five years. Among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive positions, the post-accident positivity rate rose 22 percent during the same five-year period.

The positivity rate for oral fluid drug testing rose to 9.1 percent in 2015, suggesting that roughly one in eleven job applicants were unable to pass an oral fluid drug screen. Quest’s report attributes the overall increase to a double-digit increase in marijuana positivity rates alone over the past three years.

The drug-testing method that produced the highest positivity rate in the general U.S. workforce in 2015 was hair-based drug testing, yielding a positivity rate of 10.3 percent. Quest ascribes the high rates to hair testing’s ability to detect repetitive drug use as far back as 90 days, compared to just one to three days for urine-based drug testing and 24-48 hours for oral fluid testing.

“The DTI statistics for the last five years underscore the threat to employers – and employees – from drug abusers in our 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-percent positive-rate increase for illegal drug use by the general workforce in the last five years,” said Mark de Bernardo, executive director, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. “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.”

Quest’s report highlights the need for employers to implement and conduct a thorough drug screening program, however, due to a number of issues and recent developments surrounding drug screening, it is equally important for employers to remain vigilant of these trends and potential issues and ensure their policies are both effective and compliant. Our recent white paper “The Changing Face of Employment Drug Screening” outlines and discusses some of these often-overlooked legal requirements that may require you to re-evaluate your company’s drug screening practices.

Source: Quest Diagnostics, 9/15/2016

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