The number of U.S. workers who tested positive for cocaine and methamphetamine use skyrocketed last year, while fewer employees are using prescription opioids, according to data released by Quest Diagnostics.
According to an analysis of more than 10 million drug tests, 4.2 percent of workers who were screened for drug use in the United States last year tested positive. The rate remains unchanged since 2016, but it still remains significantly higher than in 2012, when 3.5 percent of employees tested positive for drugs.
“Not only have declines appeared to have bottomed out, but also in some drug classes and areas of the country, drug positivity rates are increasing,” said Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics.
Positive testing for methamphetamine has skyrocketed in the South and Midwest in the past five years. Between 2013 and 2017, positive drug tests for methamphetamine increased by 167 percent in the region that includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin and 160 percent in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Rates were also high in the Northeast and South Atlantic regions.
There also has been a surge in positive tests for cocaine. In Nebraska, there was a 91 percent increase in positive cocaine tests from 2016 to 2017, and an 88 percent increase in Idaho.
Quest also reported spikes for positive marijuana tests in states that have made recreational use of the drug legal. There was a 43 percent increase in Nevada, 14 percent in Massachusetts and 11 percent in California. The states also saw increases in positive marijuana tests among safety-sensitive workers, which include pilots and truck drivers, who are regularly drug tested by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“These changing patterns and geographical variations may challenge the ability of employers to anticipate the ‘drug of choice’ for their workforce or where to best focus their drug prevention efforts to ensure a safe and healthy work environment,” Sample said.
The increases come as the number of workers testing positive for prescription opioids and heroin have declined, even though the opioid crisis continues to ravage the United States. The rate of drug tests that were positive for a prescription painkiller declined by 17 percent from 2016 to 2017. Tests for a metabolite that is in heroin dropped by 11 percent from 2016 to 2017, a three-year low.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the opioid prescribing rate fell to a 10-year low in 2016.
“The depth of our large-scale analysis supports the possibility that efforts by policymakers, employers, and the medical community to decrease the availability of opioid prescriptions and curtail the opioid crisis is working to reduce their use, at least among the working public,” said Kim Samano, scientific director at Quest Diagnostics.
Quest said it does not test for synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, a powerful drug that has been involved in the rise of the nation’s overdose death rate.