U.S. workforce flunking drug tests: A 14-year high



Workers testing positive for drugs hit a 14-year high in 2018, according to a report released this week by Quest Diagnostics.

The Quest analysis is based on the more than 10 million U.S. drug tests done by the company in 2018. Key points from the analysis include:

  • An increase in marijuana-positive tests across nearly all employee categories, including the federally mandated security workforce. This includes commercial vehicle drivers and some workers at the Department of Defense and Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • More urine specimens are coming back invalid, indicating an increase in cheating attempts. “Findings show an increased percentage of urine specimens in both the federally mandated, safety-sensitive and general U.S. workforces reported as invalid due to inconsistency with normal human urine, suggesting attempts at specimen adulteration or substitution. ” Between 2017 and 2018, the percentage of invalid results in the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce jumped 80 percent (0.15% versus 0.27%), and 40 percent in the general U.S. workforce (0.15% versus 0.21%).
  • The positivity rates for hair sample drug tests was significantly higher for the general U.S. workforce than for urine tests. For 160,000 drug tests using hair samples, the positivity rate was 10.9 percent in 2018, up from 10.3 percent in 2017.
  • Marijuana continues to top the list of drugs most commonly detected across all workforce categories and across all types of specimens (urine, oral fluid, hair).
  • The rate of marijuana-positive samples increased nearly 8 percent, and nearly 17 percent since 2014.
  • In the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, marijuana-positive samples increased nearly five percent from 2017 to 2018, and nearly 24 percent since 2014.
  • In the general workforce, the positivity rate for opiates declined across all opiate categories.
  • Among the general workforce screening for opiates (mostly codeine and morphine), positivity declined nearly 21 percent between 2017 and 2018 (0.39% versus 0.31%), the largest drop in three years and nearly 37 percent decrease since the peak in 2015 (0.49%).
  • Among the more specific tests for other prescription opiates, the positivity for the semi-synthetic opiates (hydrocodone and/or hydromorphone) declined two percent between 2017 and 2018 (0.51% vs. 0.50%) and 43 percent since the five-year high in 2014 (0.88%).
  • The positivity for oxycodones (oxycodone and/or oxymorphone) declined more than 29 percent between 2017 and 2018 (0.61% vs. 0.43%) and more than 46 percent since the five-year high in 2014 (0.80%).

“Our in-depth analysis shows that marijuana is not only present in our workforce, but use continues to increase,” Barry Sample, PhD, senior director of science and technology for Quest, said in a statement. “As marijuana policy changes, and employers consider strategies to protect their employees, customers and general public, employers should weigh the risks that drug use, including marijuana, poses to their business.”

Read the Quest report summary here for more information.


  1. The standard anymore is just getting someone to pee clean and show up on time. KSA’s anyone? What are those?

  2. Time to set up an invitation that an employee can’t refuse at the time of hiring. Test at Random…If there is drugs…fire the employee. See if they weave their way home on the highway, passing drivers and endangering the lives of others. Hey…Don Young, Murkowski and Sullivan are in the “weed” thinking. Time to Fire the Dynasties and get rid of the first line of the problem. Vote them out!!!!

  3. – Here in AK, is it a requirement of all employees of the Municipality and State to pass a pre-employment drug test? Also, are all employees of these two entities subject to Random Testing? If not, why not and, maybe this would benefit the employee pool.

    – If a company doesn’t have a drug testing policy, is that company subject to higher insurance costs?

    – If a company experiences an incident, whereby cannabis or another drug is found, is that company at greater risk of liability?

    – In what specific occupations is cannabis use acceptable, an occupation whereby certain attributes are not valued? For example: responsibility, judgement, discipline, decision making, efficiency, drive, production, self-respect and respect for others?

    I, for one, have been through many drug tests (pre-employment and random). AND, I’ve passed them all. Drug Testing is, and should continue to be, a litmus test proven to weed-out questionable – unreliable employees throughout the workforce that pose great risks to companies, co-workers and the public.

    • The only public employees in Alaska subject to pre-employment testing are law enforcement, safety sensitive, and some transportation employees. There is no random testing, but there is incident testing for at least the transportation employees.

      Private companies are not constrained by the US or Alaska Constitutions; they can test whomever and however they choose so long as their choices are not discriminatory. Public employers are constrained by the Constitution and a drug test constitutes a search and seizure which must have probable cause and a warrant. You can pierce the Constitutional protection by statute but it requires a showing of a compelling state interest and a narrowly tailored remedy; that’s why drug testing is permitted in law enforcement, safety sensitive, and transportation jobs, see, e.g. the USSC’s Eastern Coal decision.

  4. The legislature should have to pass a drug test. If it would have been a requirement when I was living in Juneau in the 1980’s that place would have shut down and been a ghost town.

  5. Anyone else think it’s ironic that to go out an get an actual job, you have to pass a drug test, but if you are on welfare, disability or other forms of government handouts you do not?

  6. So Marijuana use increases as legalization becomes more accepted and widespread and we get a concurrent drop in opioid use and nobody sees Marijauana as a good thing?

  7. My experience as an employer for over 40 years here in Alaska is dealing with the mind altering effects from long term pot users is memory loss even though they have been off pot for year. Random urine testing or at time of employment can be passed but the memory loss is still there.
    Its difficult in our current culture to have a business that requires THINKING OR REMEMBERING!

  8. You are right on, ANTI! Memory loss is basically brain-damage that can be permanent and the worse problem with that is that “pot” and other drugs of this type stay in the body for a long period of time and sometimes, permanently. The liver is a holding pool, brain, intestines, lungs… Wherever the holding of this substance is, will be long term. It may show up in body fluids at a time least expected. And…the Illustrious Don Young, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan want the federal government to quit policing the problem. Time to vote the trio out!! They need to go……..

  9. It is only a matter of time before marijuana use is claimed to be a healthy thing for most people. I have seen marijuana take control of the lives of enough people over the past fifty years to know that use of the drug is wasteful, stupid and unhealthy. If that offends anyone, I do not care.

  10. Good to see everyone here is quoting from scientific studies.

    The presence of THC in the system does not indicate impairment.

    Studies show long-term use can lead to some verbal memory loss, but planning and reasoning (and other areas) are not shown to be affected.

    Most long-term effects are due to adolescent use.

    And no, I don’t want people who are impaired at their job, either. But you don’t have to stigmatize something because you don’t understand it and don’t want to. Maybe just… don’t use it?

  11. JQ
    The problem is that science can’t prove that the individual that SMOKED daily and has been off pot for years and has a bad memory did or didn’t have it before indulging in pot!
    There is science that goes both ways. My science is what I observe. Its a shame what pot has done to our youth before being legal here in Alaska and now there is no turning back!
    You don’t have to worry about my use. Its the young people starting out looking for a good paying job and have to pass a drug test!!!! Hair samples along with p tests.

  12. Well hell, I didn’t vote for it. Be careful what you ask for. They got pot legalized and now can’t pass the drug test to get a good job. Lets have a show of hands… how many of you saw that coming?
    Every time someone gets near me with that stuff I tell them to get lost. No way I want to lose my professional license for a little high. This is going to be another reason that the next generation can’t/won’t succeed. The snowball of dysfunction grows.

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