Helping you stay current in drug monitoring

Drug Test Positivity Rate Continues to Climb

The rate of drug test positivity in the workforce hit a 16-year high in 2019, according to data from the annual Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ report. Data for the report are drawn from nearly 9 million urine drug tests performed during the year by Quest, the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services. Overall, 4.5% of samples tested indicated use of an illicit drug.

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of positivity among America’s workers was rising from its historic low of 3.5% in 2010-2012, said Dr Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology, Quest Diagnostics. “The enormous strain caused by COVID-19 may prove to be an accelerant on this disturbing trend.” The positivity rate in 2018 was 4.4%.

The industry sectors with the highest rates of drug positivity continue to be the retail trade industry, accommodation and food services industry, and the “other services” sector, a catch-all for multiple types of services not including public administration. The sectors with the lowest rates include the finance insurance industries, educational services, and utilities.

Perhaps not surprisingly, marijuana positivity continues to grow. In 2015, 2.4% of samples from the general US workforce were positive for marijuana. In 2019, 3.1% of samples tested positive, an increase of more than 29% in just 4 years. Over the same period, the rate rose from 0.71% to 0.88% in the safety-sensitive workforce, including employees whose employers are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Coast Guard, and multiple other federal agencies regulating safety-sensitive industries.

But growth of marijuana use was by no means the whole story behind the increase in drug positivity. “While the national debate on drug misuse in the workforce has focused primarily on marijuana, increasing positivity rates for cocaine and methamphetamine are also cause for concern,” said Dr Sample. Methamphetamine positivity in the general workforce increased from 0.17% in 2015 to 0.19% in 2019, with the greatest increases in the Midwest. The rate of methamphetamine positivity in the safety-sensitive workforce remained flat during the same period. Cocaine positivity also increased in the Midwest, and in the West.

An important trend in the opposite direction was seen for opiates of all types, for which positivity rates have declined dramatically in the past five years, from 0.49% in 2015 to 0.25% in 2019.

“Positivity by drug and region can be random and unpredictable. Our data is a reminder that it is important to remain vigilant about all drug misuse in the workforce,” Dr Sample said.

The full Drug Testing Index report can be found here: