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September 4th, 2015 | Sterling

Drug Testing Positivity Rates Trending Higher

The rate of occupational drug tests that have tested positive for one or more illicit drugs is increasing. For two years in a row, detection of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin has risen. This comes after a decade of declining positivity rates in workplace drug tests.

The positivity rate of workplace drug testing increased overall by 9.3 percent. As in previous years, marijuana was the most commonly detected illicit drug, which increased both in the general workforce and in safety-sensitive industries. While this didn’t come as a shock due to historical trends and recent focus on the topic, the increased use of other illicit substances is alarming for drug testing professionals and employers.


Working adults are increasingly suffering from drug abuse, as evidenced by these year-over-year comparisons which document the change in drug test positivity rates from 2013 to 2014:

  • Marijuana positivity rates increased by 14.3 percent and across all workforce categories.
  • Detection of cocaine increased by 9.1 percent in urine tests, 30.6 percent in oral fluid tests, and 13.0 percent in hair specimen tests.
  • In urine testing, there were 7.2 percent more employees who tested positive for amphetamines, and 21.4 percent more employees who tested positive for methamphetamines.

With the growing trend of employee drug use, it is more important now than ever before to effectively implement screening programs to work towards a drug-free workplace.


The effects of substance abuse on the employee can include declining health conditions, depression, mental illness, financial struggles and more. These repercussions don’t just affect the employee during their personal time, but also while they are on the job, which in turn can place considerable stress on the workplace. Short-term impact to the workplace can include inconsistent work quality, decreased employee productivity, and impaired cognitive or physical function leading to accidents.

Employee drug abuse can also have more lasting consequences, which often have a more extreme impact on organizations. Some of these effects include increased absenteeism, reduced employee morale, and negligence leading to potential legal action. In total, it is estimated that employers spend $81 billion on employee drug abuse every year.


Most employers who have adopted a drug testing program, only administer pre-employment tests before a candidate is hired. Although an employee may have a clean drug test when they are first hired, they could return to old habits or develop a drug addiction throughout the course of their employment. While pre-employment drug testing is critical, employers cannot discount the need for post-hire drug testing to screen their existing employee base for substance abuse.


To learn more about drug testing and how to effectively implement both pre-employment and post-hire drug screening, you can watch our complimentary, on-demand webinar HR in the Stoned Age: The ABC’s of Pre- and Post-Hire Drug Testing.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.