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More workers taking illicit drugs in the workplace

12 June 2015

More workers taking illicit drugs in the workplace

The percentage of American workers testing positive for illicit drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine, has increased to almost 5% of the total workforce, according to workplace statistics released by Quest Diagnostics.

Among 6.6 million urine drug tests performed, 4.7% of those tested positive for illicit drugs, compared with 4.3% the previous year. That 2013 figure was the first time that levels of illicit drug use had risen since 2003.

Dr Barry Sample, director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics, said: “American workers are increasingly testing positive for workforce drug use across almost all workforce categories and drug test specimen types. In the past, we have noted increases in prescription drug positivity rates, but now it seems illicit drug use may be on the rise, according to our data.

“These findings are especially concerning because they suggest that the recent focus on illicit marijuana use may be too narrow, and that other dangerous drugs are potentially making a comeback.”

As well as positive urine tests, the statistics also show an increase in illicit drug use among the 1.1 million oral fluid and hair tests from the previous year.

A former director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr Robert DuPont, said: “The increases in illicit drug positivity in employment drug testing should get employers and policymakers to take notice of the serious risks these drugs create for productivity, health and safety.

“Many of these substances are clearly associated with impaired physical and cognitive functions. This analysis by Quest Diagnostics suggests that illicit drug use among workers is increasing broadly for the first time in years in the United States. Public and private employers mighty want to consider revisiting existing substance abuse policies to ensure that they are taking the necessary precautions to protect their workplace, employees and businesses.”

While marijuana is still the most commonly used drug among positive testers, rates of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin are sharply rising, lead to fears that these rises may continue.

Dr Sample said: “Our DTI data mirrors research from the National Drug Intelligence Centre which also shows that heroin use has increased markedly in recent years. While overall prevalence is low, the escalation in the detection of the 6-AM metabolite indicates heroin use may be growing. With the high costs associated with prescription opiates, some drug users may be turning to comparatively cheaper alternatives like heroin.”

For more information about the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index, including comprehensive data from the present report, visit

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