Drug Use by US Workers Highest in More Than a Decade

New analysis released this month by Quest Diagnostics shows that nationally, the positivity rate for the combined U.S. workforce held steady at 4.2% in 2017, the same as in 2016, but a dramatic increase over the 3.5% positivity rate from 2012, which represented a thirty-year low.

The analysis of 2017 data also suggests shifting patterns of drug use, with cocaine and amphetamines positivity surging in some areas of the country and marijuana positivity rising sharply in states with newer recreational use statutes. Prescription opiate positivity rates declined dramatically on a national basis.

For the fifth consecutive year, the positivity rate for cocaine increased in the general workforce across every specimen type. In urine testing, the most common drug test specimen type, the positivity rate for cocaine increased seven percent in the general U.S. workforce (0.28% in 2016 versus 0.30% in 2017). Year-over-year increases were also observed in the general U.S. workforce in oral fluid testing (up 16%) and hair testing (19%).

Cocaine positivity increased by eleven percent (0.28% in 2016 versus 0.31% in 2017), representing the third consecutive year of increases in this workforce segment.

Double-digit year-over-year increases in at least four of the five past years were seen in the states of Nebraska (91% increase between 2016 and 2017), Idaho (88% increase), Washington (31%), Nevada (25%), Maryland (22% increase), and Wisconsin (13%).

Between 2013 and 2017, methamphetamine positivity increased:

  • 167% in the East North Central division of the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin);
  • 160% in the East South Central division of the South (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee);
  • 150% in the Middle Atlantic division of the Northeast (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania); and
  • 140% in the South Atlantic division of the South (Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia).

Overall, marijuana positivity continued its five-year upward trajectory in urine testing for both the general U.S. workforce and the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce. Marijuana positivity increased four percent in the general U.S. workforce (2.5% in 2016 versus 2.6% in 2017) and nearly eight percent in the safety-sensitive workforce (0.78% versus 0.84%).

Dr. Barry Sample, senior director, science and technology, Quest Diagnostics, said, “our data suggests that the recreational use of marijuana is spilling into the workforce, including among individuals most responsible for keeping our communities safe.”