Drug use in the workforce has reached its highest level in 12 years, according to a new report from New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest workplace drug-testing companies in the U.S.
Overall, positivity in urine drug testing among the combined U.S. workforce in 2016 was 4.2 percent — a five percent relative increase over 2015’s rate of 4.0 percent, and the highest annual positivity rate since 2004, according to Quest.
Positive tests were up for the most common illicit drugs, including cocaine and marijuana, in all tested populations.
But after four straight years of increases, urine testing positivity for heroin held steady in the general U.S. workforce in 2016 and declined slightly among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers, according to Quest. Positive tests for prescription opioid drugs – including hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodones – also declined in urine testing among the general U.S. workforce.
The declines may reflect efforts by state and federal authorities to more tightly control opioid prescribing in order to address the nationwide opioid crisis, which has hit Ohio especially hard. Ohio led the nation in opioid overdose deaths in 2014, and has seen overdose deaths from heroin and fentanyl — common alternatives for those hooked on prescription painkillers — skyrocket in recent years.
Cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28 percent, compared to 0.25 percent in 2015 in the general U.S. workforce, according to Quest. Positive test for cocaine increased 7 percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers to 0.28 percent, compared to 0.26 percent in 2015.
Positive marijuana tests continued to grow in both the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive and general U.S. workforces. In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75 percent, from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016 in the general U.S. workforce. Marijuana positivity also increased in both urine testing (2.4 percent in 2015 versus 2.5 percent in 2016) and hair testing (7 percent in 2015 versus 7.3 percent in 2016) in the same population.
Among the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, which only utilizes urine testing, marijuana positivity increased nearly 10 percent (0.71 percent in 2015 versus 0.78 percent in 2016), the largest year-over-year increase in five years.
In Colorado and Washington, the first states in which recreational marijuana use was legalized, the overall urine positivity rate for marijuana outpaced the national average in 2016 for the first time since the statutes took effect.