Quest Diagnostics 2017 Annual Drug Study Summary

Quest Diagnostics released its yearly summary of the Drug Testing Index study which analyzed the information from over ten million drug test results covering the U.S. in three categories of workers; those who are federally regulated and in safety-sensitive positions, the general workforce and the combined U.S. workforce. Quest has been performing meta studies of results since 1988 which has provided quality information reflective of the U.S. workforce and has offered Canadians valuable insights into the current trends in drug use. This year’s highlight showed an overall increase in the positive results obtained from urine drug testing, which was 4.2 percent, compared to last years rate of 4.0 percent and, in fact, the highest overall positivity rating since 2004 when the positivity rate was 4.5%.

“This year’s findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations,” said Barry Sample, PhD, senior director, science and technology, Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. “Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should be alert to the potential for drug use among their workforce.”

Cocaine use showed a continued increase in this year’s analysis, with positivity increasing 12 percent in 2016, which has now led it to reach a seven-year high of 0.28 percent. This is the second consecutive year that there has been an increase in cocaine positives within the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce. Matt Nieman, General Counsel, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace notes “That positive test results for cocaine persist, let alone are increasing, should serve as a reminder to employers and employees that there is no substitute for vigilance in any effective effort to thwart the potential impacts of workplace substance abuse.” It is also important to note that the positivity rate for cocaine in post-accident urine drug tests was more than twice that of pre-employment drug tests, and was also higher than the rate in random drug tests. This information provide an insight into the importance of drug and alcohol testing programmes in keeping our workplaces safe, as Dr. Sample points out “While a positive test doesn’t prove drug use caused the accident, it raises the question as to whether it played a role.”.

“While a positive test doesn’t prove drug use caused the accident, it raises the question as to whether it played a role.”

Also of interest to Canadians are the statistics on marijuana, particularly in those states, Colorado and Washington, where it has been newly legalized. The overall upward trend for marijuana positives continued this year in both the safety-sensitive populations and the general workforce. There were minor increases in both urine and hair positives (.1% increase in urine positives and .3 in hair, respectively) but the huge upswing occurred in the oral fluid results, with an increase of nearly 75 percent in positives from 2015 to 2016. In Colorado and Washington the 2016 overall positive test rate for marijuana in urine specimens eclipsed the national average, with Colorado increasing 11 percent and Washington showing an increase in of 9 percent.
These statistics are good reminders to all employers that it is of utmost importance to take the need seriously for a comprehensive drug and alcohol testing policy, particularly within workplaces that have with safety-sensitive positions.

Points for Canadian employers to consider:

  • Modification to workplace policies before changes to the law occur to help mitigate last-minute scrambling when changes do occur (e.g. the legalization of marijuana).
  • Make sure that your employees and human resources staff are aware of the applicable laws, both federal and provincial, to ensure that the drug and alcohol testing policy meets both the needs of safety and rights of employees.
  • All supervisors and managers should be properly understand the requirements of the policy and receive training in regards to recognizing when workers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol at work.

Link to Quest Diagnostics’ Study

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