PERSONNEL MATTERS: Workforce drug test positives up
MADISON, N.J. (Sept. 12, 2014) — The percentage of positive drug tests among American workers has increased for the first time in more than a decade, fueled by a rise in use of marijuana and amphetamines, according to a study by Quest Diagnostics Inc.
The provider of diagnostic information services conducted an analysis of 8.5 million urine, oral fluid and hair workplace drug test results. Its Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index (DTI) shows that the positivity rate for 7.6 million urine drug tests in the combined U.S. workforce increased to 3.7 percent in 2013, up from 3.5 percent in 2012.
The relative increase of 5.7 percent year-over-year is the first time the positivity rate for combined national workplace urine drug tests has increased since 2003, according to Quest Diagnostics, which has analyzed annual workplace drug testing data since 1988.
“After years of declines, the prevalence of positive workforce drug tests is increasing,” said Dr. Barry Sample, director, science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, a business unit of Quest Diagnostics. “This increase indicates that employers should be aware of the potential for drug use by their workers and the risk that represents for the health and safety of their employees and the public.”
Quest's 2013 DTI analyzed urine, oral fluid and hair drug tests performed by the company's workplace drug testing laboratories across the U.S. Test results are analyzed according to three categories of workers:
- Employees with private companies (U.S. general workforce);
- Employees subject to federal drug testing rules, including safety-sensitive truck drivers, train operators, airline and nuclear power plant workers (federally mandated safety-sensitive workers); and
- A combination of both groups (combined U.S. workforce).
The Quest study found that marijuana positivity increased 6.2 percent nationally in urine drug tests but by double digits in Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is legal.
Marijuana continues to be the most commonly detected illicit drug, according to the DTI analysis of urine drug tests. Marijuana positivity in the combined U.S. workforce increased 6.2 percent, to 1.7 percent in 2013 compared to 1.6 percent in 2012.
In the safety-sensitive workforce, Quest found that marijuana positivity increased 5.6 percent (0.67 percent vs. 0.63 percent). In the general U.S. workforce, the positivity rate increased 5 percent, to 2.1 percent in 2013 from 2 percent in the prior year. These increased positivity rates are consistent with findings from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which showed an increase in self-reported past-month marijuana use between 2007 and 2012.
“After years of declines, the prevalence of positive workforce drug tests is increasing.” — Dr. Barry Sample, director, science and technology, Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions
An analysis of urine drug test data for the combined U.S. workforce from the two states with “recreational” use laws — Colorado and Washington — showed marijuana positivity rates increased 20 and 23 percent, respectively, in the general workforce between 2012 and 2013, compared to the 5 percent average increase among the U.S. general workforce in all 50 states.
However, both Colorado and Washington experienced dramatic increases in marijuana positivity rates prior to legalization at year-end 2012. From 2009 to 2010, according to Quest, Colorado experienced a 22-percent increase and Washington a 10-percent decline in positivity. From 2011 to 2012, Colorado experienced a 3-percent increase and Washington an 8-percent increase in positivity.
“Washington and Colorado are believed by many to foreshadow future trends in ‘recreational' marijuana use,” Dr. Sample said. He noted that while the firm's DTI “shows dramatic spikes in marijuana positivity rates over the past year, a longer view of the data suggests a more complex picture.
“It is possible that relaxed societal views of marijuana use in those two states, relative to others, may in part be responsible for the recent increase in positivity rates. Yet, this doesn't explain why both states also experienced steep rises — and declines — in positivity in recent years. We will be very interested to see how our data evolves over the next year or two in these two states relative to those that have not legalized so-called ‘recreational' marijuana.”
Dr. Sample noted that, based on studies, “workforce positivity for marijuana is definitely on the rise across the United States. It is important for people to remember that while some states have legalized marijuana, the federal government has not. Employers generally have the authority to restrict the ‘recreational' use of marijuana by employees and impose sanctions, including termination, on employees with positive drug tests in all 50 states.”
In addition to urine drug tests for marijuana, Quest said it also provides oral fluid testing, and for the second consecutive year, DTI data showed a marked increase in marijuana detection in oral fluid.
Oral fluid positivity rates for marijuana climbed 27 percent (5.1 percent vs. 4 percent) in 2013 from 2012 after a dramatic increase of 48 percent (4 percent vs. 2.7 percent) in 2012 from 2011, Quest said. While the trend of higher positivity rates may be partially attributed to an uptick in marijuana use among testing subjects, other variables — including observed collections associated with oral fluid testing and the introduction of the company's new oral fluid testing technology in 2011 — are also contributing factors to the increase in oral fluid marijuana positivity rates, according to the firm.
Amphetamines are a class of central nervous system stimulants that includes methamphetamine (best known for being produced in clandestine labs) and prescription medications for conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy.
Continuing a multi-year upward trend, Quest said amphetamines use — specifically the use of methamphetamine — showed an increase across all three specimen types. Combined U.S. workforce data in urine showed a 10 percent (0.85 percent vs. 0.77 percent) year-over-year increase in amphetamines positivity in 2013 compared to 2012. In the U.S. general workforce, methamphetamine positivity in urine drug tests increased 27 percent (0.14 percent vs. 0.11 percent); oral fluid methamphetamine positivity increased by 50 percent (0.24 percent vs. 0.16 percent).
In addition, the positivity rate in hair testing jumped by 55 percent (1.2 percent vs. 0.77 percent). Amphetamines positivity rates are now at their highest levels on record and methamphetamine positivity rates are at their highest levels since 2007, across all specimen types, the Quest study said.
The DTI data also reported declines for prescription opiates positivity in urine drug tests. Prescription opiates refer to drugs used for pain management, such as hydrocodone and oxycodones.
The current data show oxycodones positivity declined 8.3 percent (0.88 percent vs. 0.96 percent) between 2013 and 2012 and 12.7 percent (0.96 percent vs. 1.1 percent) between 2012 and 2011 in the combined U.S. workforce. Four states experienced double-digit declines in oxycodones positivity rates in both 2013 and 2012: Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Ohio. Hydrocodone positivity remained at 1.3 percent between 2012 and 2013.
More information about the Quest DTI is available on the company's website.
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