Last updated: January 30, 2023
For the past decade, the rate of positive drug tests recorded in the United States workforce had steadily declined. According to recent statistics provided by the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index, that trend has come to an end. Quest Diagnostics is the primary source of services that relate to diagnostic testing, and the company has analyzed the results from drug testing in the workplace since 1988. In 2013, Quest Diagnostics evaluated 8.5 million test results and confirmed that positive test results for marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines have increased significantly.
- The U.S. general workforce, consisting of employees working at private companies
- The federally mandated “safety-sensitive” workforce, which includes truck drivers, pilots, and other employees subject to federal drug screening rules because of the impact on those jobs to the public
- The combined U.S. workforce, which incorporates results from both groups.
Observing trends in drug screening in the workplace can help employers improve the safety of their workforce and comply with industry regulations. The effects of different drug testing policies and new laws regarding drug use can also be studied.
Marijuana is still the most frequently detected drug
Altering societal perceptions and legal disputes are probably the cause of the escalating positive rates in the workforce. These rates have continued to increase since 2012, which is shown in the subsequent statistics.
- 6.2% increase in positive results for marijuana in the combined U.S. workforce and a 5% increase in the general workforce from 2012 to 2013
- 14.3% increase in the general U.S. workforce from 2013 an 2014
- 27% increase in positivity rates for oral fluid testing from 2012 to 2013 and a 48% increase from 2011 to 2012
The sizable rate differences in oral fluid testing results are associated with new technology that was introduced by the testing firm in 2011. Increases in positivity may also be attributed to the legalization of marijuana.
Largest increases in legalizing states
The largest increases in positivity rates for marijuana testing occurred in Colorado and Washington, which may be unsurprising, given that recreational use of marijuana was recently legalized by those states (despite the drug remaining a Schedule 1 controlled substance according to the federal government because of the Controlled Substance Act). Positive urine testing in the combined workforce for marijuana has increased 20% in Colorado and 23% in Washington since 2012. However, results of the evaluation indicate that the legalization of marijuana isn’t the sole cause of the sudden changes.
The positivity rates for amphetamines and cocaine have also increased after long periods of decline. Testers reported positive changes (more positive results) in rates from 2013 to 2014:
- 21.4% increase in urine tests for methamphetamines
- 37.5% increase in oral fluid tests for methamphetamines
- 9.1% increase in urine tests for cocaine
- 30.6% increase in a combination of oral fluid and hair sample tests for cocaine
Positivity rates for amphetamines in all types of specimen testing are currently the highest on record. Methamphetamines have had the most positive testing results since 2007, with a 21.4% increase in urine drug test positivity and an increase of 35.5% in oral fluid tests in 2013.
More drug usage or better testing?
Out of 7.6 million urine drug tests, the reported general positivity rate increased 5.7% in the combined national workplace from 2012 to 2013. This could reflect advancements in the efficacy of drug testing, recent societal influences, or more rigorous drug testing policies. Analysts feel that it is still too early to determine the causes or consequences of the dramatic increases in drug test positivity for marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine.