Employee Drug Use

It’s On The Rise In The United States

Positive drug tests for American workers doubled from 2015 to 2016, and employee drug use is as high as it has been in a decade. Quest Diagnostics, a company that tests urine, hair and oral fluid for drugs on behalf of companies across the United States, found that workers across the nation are doing more and more drugs. The company analyzed nearly 11 million drug tests from 2015, finding that employee drug use in the workplace has grown to a 10-year high.

“Our nationally representative analysis clearly shows that drug use by the American workforce is on the rise, and this trend extends to several different classes of drugs and categories of drug tests,” said Barry Sample, Ph.D., senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics in a press release. “The 2015 findings related to post-accident testing results should also be of concern to employers, especially those with safety-sensitive employees.”

If you or a loved one is stressed by their work and abuse substances, contact Behavioral Health Centers today.  Substance abuse treatment begins with a phone call: 772-774-3872

Quest Diagnostic Drug Testing Index (DTI) Findings:

  • Nearly one-in-11 job applicants were unable to pass an oral fluid drug screen
  • Amphetamine and heroin detection rates increased for a fifth consecutive year
  • 10.3 percent of those tested for drug use through hair samples were positive
  • Of the 9.5 million urine drug tests analyzed in 2015, positive tests increased from 2.6 to 4 percent.
  • The rate of positive marijuana urine drug tests has increased 26 percent since 2011
  • 45 percent of individuals in the workforce who tested positive for drugs in 2015 tested positive for marijuana
  • Positive urine drug tests for heroin have increased 146 percent since 2011

employee drug use

“The DTI statistics for the last five years underscore the threat to employers – and employees – from drug abusers in our workplace. The numbers on hair testing – the methodology with the longest look-back and therefore a more telling measurement of regular use – show a 34-percent positive-rate increase for illegal drug use by the general workforce in the last five years,” said Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace in the release. “However, all the numbers for various testing methodologies confirm this disturbing trend and should provide a wake-up call to employers to do more to combat workplace substance abuse and to do it more effectively.”[1]

Potential Explanations for the Increase in Employee Drug Use

Being that this report analyzed several million U.S. employees, pinpointing an exact reason why employee drug use has increased across the country is impossible. Every person has unique reasons for using drugs. However, there are some factors that could be combined to cause the increase.

  • Heroin Use is Up
  • America is Stressed Out
  • Marijuana Viewed More Favorably

Heroin Use is Up

drug use in the officeThe use and abuse of heroin have been steadily increasing since the beginning of the 21st century across all demographics. This increase is mostly due to the skyrocketing of opioid prescriptions and the subsequent crackdown that left many unable to obtain or pay for their painkillers. This led droves of Americans to turn to heroin as a cheaper, more potent and more dangerous alternative. Quest’s DTI findings showed that while positive tests for heroin have more than doubled since 2011, positive tests for prescription opioids have been on the decline in 49 states since 2012.

In 1991, there were 76 million prescriptions for painkillers written. In 2013, there were nearly 207 million.[2] From 2005 to 2012, the number of past-year heroin users increased from 380,000 to 670,000.[3] The 2,789 fatal heroin overdoses in 2010 represented a near 50 percent increase from the early 2000s,[4] and of the more than 47,000 drug overdose cases in 2014, over 60 percent involved either prescription opioids or heroin.[5]

America is Stressed Out

Multiple studies and surveys have shown that American workers are dealing with high levels of stress. Employees are stressed about money, job security and even the threat of discrimination.

One study, conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), measured stress on a scale from one-to-10. It found that in 2015 the average stress level for Americans stood at 5.1, a slight increase from 4.9 the year before. Among those surveyed, 24 percent reported “extreme stress.” The APA has conducted this survey since 2007 and has consistently seen that money and work are the top two sources of stress reported among Americans (at 67 percent and 65 percent respectively).

Additionally, 61 percent of those surveyed listed day-to-day discrimination and unfair treatment as another source of stress.[6]
drug testing in the workplace statistics

Another study, this one by Workplace Options, a workplace wellness consulting firm, interviewed 500 American workers about their stress levels and sources of stress. A whopping 90 percent said they were stressed out about personal finances and many indicated that the issue negatively impacted their job performance. More than 50 percent of those surveyed reported moderate or significant stress.[7]

High stress not only leads to a number of health difficulties, but it also leads to employee drug use as a means of coping. This is a potential explanation for the increase in substance abuse among working adults.

Marijuana Viewed More Favorably

The most common drug that American workers tested positive for in Quest’s DTI was marijuana. While this could speak to the availability or affordability of the drug in comparison to others, it could also be a product of the nation’s changing views. The fact is that several surveys have indicated that the majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana. This represents a stark change in the nation’s perception of the drug.
US adults favoring marijuana legalization

In 1969, a Gallup poll of 1,028 adults from all 50 states showed that only 12 percent were in favor of legalization. Even as late as 2001, only 31 percent of those surveyed supported making cannabis legal. However, the most recent 2015 poll revealed that 58 percent were in favor of legalizing the drug, and the sentiment appears to be steadily growing each year.[8]

It’s clear that people’s opinions about marijuana are shifting, and this could possibly be another reason for the measured rise in employee drug use.

Drug Use and Work Don’t Mix

No matter the industry, it’s safe to say that drug and alcohol abuse have no place in a work environment. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) estimates that drug abuse costs employers approximately $81 billion annually. It can lead to diminished productivity, excessive absenteeism, injuries, theft, fatalities, low employee morale and an increase in healthcare expenses.[9]

In addition to providing a low-stress workplace to deter your workers from using drugs to self-medicate, it’s also important that employers recognize addiction as a disease and provide the proper support. Experimental drug use quickly and easily devolves into regular and then habitual abuse. By the time addictive behavior is formed, the road back to normalcy and sobriety seems impossible.

This is where you come in as an employer. Supporting your employees during rehab is an immeasurable gift that they won’t soon forget. Whether it be through the insurance you provide or through guaranteeing some level of job security, you can help reduce employee drug use and make the journey to recovery much more successful and fulfilling for your employees suffering from drug addiction.


  1. https://newsroom.questdiagnostics.com/2016-09-15-Drug-Positivity-in-U-S-Workforce-Rises-to-Nearly-Highest-Level-in-a-Decade-Quest-Diagnostics-Analysis-Finds
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse
  3. National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Multiple Cause of Death 1999-2010 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2012
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/
  6. https://time.com/4253107/americans-are-getting-more-stressed-out-study-finds/
  7. https://www.workplaceoptions.comhttps://behavioralhealth-centers.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/WPOResults-financial-stress-feb-2016.pdf
  8. https://www.gallup.com/poll/186260/back-legal-marijuana.aspx
  9. https://www.ocpa-oh.org/Drugs%20and%20the%20Workplace.pdf

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