America's workplaces are setting their highest positive workforce drug test rates since 2001, according to new data from Quest Diagnostics.
The diagnostic lab testing corporation with nearly 47,000 employees and $7.7 billion in revenue released its annual Drug Testing Index, which includes analysis on safety-sensitive positions and post-accident statistics.
Keith Ward, general manager and vice president, Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, indicated that labor shortages and what has been referred to colloquially as the "Great Resignation" are driving employers to lower drug testing standards.
"Employers are wrestling with significant recruitment and retention challenges as well as with maintaining safe and engaging work environments that foster positive mental and physical wellbeing," he commented in a statement. "Our Drug Testing Index data raises important questions about what it means to be an employer committed to employee health and safety. Eager to attract talent, employers may be tempted to lower their standards. In the process, they raise the specter of more drug-related impairment and worksite accidents that put other employees and the general public in harms' way."
Positive test results in the combined U.S. workforce, which includes company-policy testing by private employers as well as the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, jumped more than 30 percent following an all-time low between 2010-2012.
The data was gathered from more than 11 million urine, hair and oral fluid test results obtained from January to December 2021, with urine tests comprising nearly nine million of the samples. According to the Drug Testing Index, urine tests discovered a 31.4 percent increase in positivity rates, up from just 3.5 percent between 2010 and 2012.
The overall positivity rate for federally-mandated workers such as pilots, truck drivers and train conductors who are submit to mandatory testing under federal law, remained steady at 2.2 percent in 2020 and 2021. Positive test rates for the general U.S. workforce rose to 5.6 percent, up from 5.5 percent in 2021 and up consistently each of the past five years.
The rapid legalization of cannabis across the country over the past decade has correlated to greater positivity rates in the workplace. Despite five years of declining drug use in the federal workforce, marijuana use increased 8.9 percent year over year - up to .86 percent in 2021 from .79 percent in 2020. Positive cocaine tests increased 5.0 percent, up to .21 in 2021.
In the general U.S. workforce, Quest Diagnostics found positivity rates for marijuana use jumped to 3.9 percent in 2021, up from 3.6 in 2020, or an 8.3. percent increase. The data was drawn from six million urine tests completed throughout 2021 and was the highest positivity rate ever reported for the Drug Testing Index, according to the company.
An upward movement has been the trend for the past five years, with Quest Diagnostics noting that use in the general U.S. workforce has jumped a drastic 50 percent from 2.6 percent in 2017.
"It is important for workers to know that certain employers are required to test for marijuana under federal law and if they use marijuana, they can still lose their jobs," said Dr. Sample. "People who use drugs during working hours or before work can still be impaired and dangerous to co-workers, the general public and themselves." noted Dr. Barry Sample, senior science consultant, Quest Diagnostics.
The Drug Testing Index provided an outlook for other substances such as cocaine, opiates and methamphetamines. While cocaine in urine tests for the general U.S. workforce decreased 4.5 percent, rates for the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce grew 5 percent between 2020 and 2021, the first increase in five years, according to the company. The general U.S. workforce has seen a 30 percent decline in cocaine positivity in the past five years.
Efforts to combat the opioid epidemic continue to make headlines. Quest Diagnostics noted a 19 percent decrease in urine test positivity in the general U.S. workforce in 2021 from 2010 and a 56.4 percent decrease in the past five years - down 1.7 percent in 2021 from .39 percent in 2017.
A comprehensive U.S. map for opiates and oxycodone is available at DTIDrugMap.com.