Personnel Safety, Reporting

Quest Diagnostics: Workers’ Positive Drug Tests Hit 20-Year High

Last year, the rate of positive drug test results among American workers reached its highest rate since 2001, Quest Diagnostics reports. The company’s analysis shows the positivity rate was up more than 30% in the combined U.S. workforce from an all-time low in 2010–2012.

Moreover, overall positivity in the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, based on nearly 2.7 million urine drug tests, stayed even year over year (2.2% in both 2020 and 2021) but was 4.8% higher than in 2017 (2.1%), Quest adds.

After 5 years of steady declines in several drug categories, positivity rates based on urine drug tests for the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce increased in 2021, the company reports.

Positive results for marijuana increased 8.9% (0.79% in 2020 to 0.86% in 2021), positive test results for amphetamines increased 7.8% (0.64% in 2020 to 0.69% in 2021), and positive results for cocaine increased 5.0% (0.20% in 2020 to 0.21% in 2021).

The company also reports increases in positive test results among the general workforce. Positivity rates for marijuana in the general U.S. workforce—based on more than 6 million urine tests—continued an upward climb, increasing 8.3% (3.6% in 2020 versus 3.9% in 2021), the highest positivity rate ever reported in Quest’s annual Drug Testing Index.

Over 5 years, positivity for marijuana in the general U.S. workforce increased 50% (2.6% in 2017 versus 3.9% in 2021).

The positivity rate in post-accident urine testing in the U.S. general workforce for marijuana was 63.4% higher and 266.7% higher for cocaine compared with preemployment testing, according to Quest.

“The increase in post-accident positivity is alarming and suggests more drug-associated accidents may be occurring even with employers with pre-employment drug testing in place,” Barry Sample, PhD, senior science consultant for Quest, said in a statement.

Overall marijuana positivity increased in all industries and by double digits in 15 industries from 2017 to 2021. Accommodation and food service had the highest workforce positivity for marijuana at 7.5%, a relative increase of 114.3% over 5 years (3.5% in 2017 versus 7.5% in 2021), Quest’s analysis shows.

Post-accident positivity was 316.7% higher for opiates (hydrocodone/hydromorphone) and 200% higher for oxycodones (oxycodone/oxymorphone) than in preemployment testing.

Quest notes a year-over-year decrease in positive test results for methamphetamine in health care and social assistance, decreasing by 50% over a 5-year period (0.18% in 2017 to 0.09% in 2021).

The company finds a year-over-year rise in methamphetamine positivity in the retail trade over the same period—a 55.6% increase (0.09% in 2017 to 0.14% in 2021). The retail trade industry had the highest overall positivity rate for all drugs in 2021 at 7%, an increase of 34.6% since 2017.

Quest’s Drug Testing Index is based on more than 11 million urine, hair, and oral fluid drug test results collected between January and December 2021.

Quest is a clinical laboratory chain that performs health screenings, as well as preemployment and post-accident drug and alcohol testing.

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