Analysis: Employee Drug Test Fails at 10-Year Record High

AUGUST 16, 2023

After years of decline, the number of American employees failing employer-mandated drug tests is at a 10-year high, per a data analysis by Quest Diagnostics. The analysis reviewed data from almost 11 million drug tests to determine the result.

At a meeting of the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association, Quest Diagnostics presented these findings based on urine-, oral- and hair-based laboratory tests conducted in 2015. After three years of continued increase, the number of positive tests have reached a new record since a decade ago.

The analysis revealed that the positivity rate for 9.5 million urine samples tested rose to 4 percent, a change of 2.6 percent over 2014. It’s also 14 percent higher than the 10-year low, which occurred in 2010 and 2011. The last year the positivity rate was 4 percent or higher was in 2005.

Drug-Specific Results

The oral testing positivity rate increased 47 percent over the last three years. This was largely due to a double-digit increase in marijuana positivity. There was a 1.5 percent increase in marijuana detection from 6 percent in 2014 to 7.5 percent in 2015.

In urine testing, which gives results of use within the last one to three days, the rate of heroin, amphetamine and marijuana usage increased each year for the past five years. Since 2011:

  • Heroin detection rates grew 146 percent
  • Amphetamine detection rates grew 44 percent
  • Marijuana detection rates grew 26 percent

Outside the scope of illegal drugs, oxycodone detection decreased each year since 2011, suggesting a link between a crackdown on “pill mills” and a reduction in prescriptions for opioids. Since 2012, prescriptions for opioids have declined in every state except South Dakota, according to a New York Times analysis.

Former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Robert DuPont, M.D., said at the conference, “This report shows a welcome decline in workplace drug test positives but a disturbing increase in heroin positives.”

Safety-sensitive workers, such as those who work in manufacturing jobs with heavy machinery or in construction, saw heroin detection in urine tests increase 4.5 percent since 2014 and 84 percent since 2011.

Refugees Stepping in To Fill Positions Opened by Drug-Positive Employees

In response to the Quest Diagnostics report, CNN reported that many factories and other businesses were turning to refugees to fill open positions left by Americans who tested positive for drug use. These businesses are largely in the areas most affected by the current drug epidemic.

Refugees from Syria, Chad, Bhutan, Somalia and Bhutan are among those receiving job training to fill construction and manufacturing positions. Most of these refugees are coming from war-torn areas of the Middle East and are devoutly Muslim.

In Islam, drinking alcohol and taking drugs is prohibited, so these refugees are considered reliable and clear-headed — what employers want in their employees.

The increased number of positive tests is likely fueled by the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic and the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in states such as ColoradoWashington and Maine.

CNN reported that one oil and trucking business in Colorado did a random drug test on their workers and 80 percent of them failed, mostly for marijuana positivity.

More than half of American employers screen for drugs during the hiring process, according to a Society for Human Resource Management poll.

At a company called Sterling Technologies in Erie, Pennsylvania, more than 20 percent of applicants fail drug tests. In Pennsylvania, one of the states currently hit hard by heroin and opioid addiction, fatal drug overdoses in 2014 were 14 times what they were in 1979, according to a University of Pittsburgh study. Southwest Pennsylvania, near Scranton, was the hardest hit.

Manufacturing and construction make up 15 percent of Scranton’s workforce, a total of more than 4,800 workers, according to the site

Erie has lost more than half its manufacturing jobs and is facing unrelenting rates of drug overdose, alcohol-related deaths and suicides.

CNN reported that, over the last five years, nearly 6,000 refugees have settled in Louisville, Ky., helping to fill positions in factories with open jobs. Kentucky has been ravaged by the current drug epidemic, especially methamphetamine use. According to Quest Diagnostics, the number of job seekers in Louisville testing positive for meth is 47 percent higher than the national average.

“I’ve had no refugees fail [the drug test],” Sterling Technologies floor manager, Marty Learn, reported to CNN.