Drug-Free Workplace

Marijuana, Cocaine, Meth Use in the Workplace Climbs as Opioid Use Falls

The decline of opioids is encouraging, but increased positive tests in methamphetamine and cocaine should be seen as a wake-up call for public safety.
By: | May 9, 2018 • 4 min read
Topics: Safety | Workers' Comp

While communities and health care providers work to drive down opioid usage, drug use by the American workforce remains at its highest rate in more than a decade, thanks to increases in the use of cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana, according to Quest Diagnostics.


2018 marks the 30th year that the company published its national Drug Testing Index™, analyzing workplace drug positivity trends.

According to the analysis, drug test positivity for the combined U.S. workforce held steady at 4.2 percent in 2017. But rising figures related to certain substances may prompt employers to review their drug testing and prevention programs.

Cocaine Use Is Increasing

The positivity rate for cocaine increased for the fifth consecutive year in the general U.S. workforce across every specimen type. In urine testing, the most common drug test specimen type, the

Kim Samano, PhD, scientific director, Quest Diagnostics

positivity rate for cocaine increased 7 percent in the general U.S. workforce.

In the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, for which only urine testing is permitted, cocaine positivity increased by 11 percent, the third consecutive year of increases in this segment.

A new pattern emerged in this year’s analysis, with cocaine positivity in urine testing increasing significantly in certain states among the general U.S. workforce. Double-digit, year-over-year increases in at least four of the five past years were seen in the states of Nebraska (91 percent increase between 2016 and 2017), Idaho (88 percent increase), Washington (31 percent), Nevada (25 percent), Maryland (22 percent increase), and Wisconsin (13 percent).

Methamphetamine Rise Is Cause for Concern

From 2016 to 2017, the percentage increase in methamphetamine positivity rates ranged from 9 percent to 25 percent in certain regions. But the current year’s figures alone don’t tell the full story of the alarming rise of the drug’s use. Quest reports that between 2013 and 2017, methamphetamine positivity increased:

  • 167 percent in the East North Central division of the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin);
  • 160 percent in the East South Central division of the South (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee);
  • 150 percent in the Middle Atlantic division of the Northeast (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania); and
  • 140 percent in the South Atlantic division of the South (Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia).

Marijuana positivity increased 4 percent for the general U.S. workforce. For safety-sensitive workers, including pilots, rail, bus and truck drivers, and workers in nuclear power plants, for whom routine drug testing is required by the DOT, that increase was 8 percent.

States with recently enacted recreational use statues saw notable increases:

  • Nevada (43 percent)
  • Massachusetts (14 percent)
  • California (11 percent)

Whether those numbers indicate an actual trend remains to be seen.

Opioid Positivity Rates Continue to Decline

The good news is that significant progress has been made in the battle against opioid abuse. Quest Diagnostics’ Scientific Director Kim Samano noted in the report, “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.”

“While there is encouraging data regarding prescription opiates, increased workplace test positives in methamphetamine and cocaine is troubling. This data should serve as a wake-up call to regulators and employers that drugs other than opioids require attention to effectively combat workplace substance abuse and maintain public safety.” — Kim Samano, PhD scientific director, Quest Diagnostics.

Nationally, the positivity rate for opiates in the general U.S. workforce in urine drug testing declined 17 percent between 2016 and 2017. Positivity for oxycodones (oxycodone and/or oxymorphone) declined 12 percent between 2016 and 2017, while hydrocodone positivity dropped by 17 percent and hydromorphones declined 22 percent.


For opiates other than codeine, positivity rates were at their lowest in more than a decade, a trend that mirrors the CDC’s figures on the decline of opioid prescribing over the past decade.

Test results for heroin also reached a three-year low, down 11 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Those figures are positive, but the fact remains that shifting patterns of usage across geographies will continue to make it more difficult for employers to effectively focus their prevention programs and drug-free workplace efforts.

“While there is encouraging data regarding prescription opiates, increased workplace test positives in methamphetamine and cocaine is troubling. This data should serve as a wake-up call to regulators and employers that drugs other than opioids require attention to effectively combat workplace substance abuse and maintain public safety,” said Kim Samano, PhD, scientific director, Quest Diagnostics.

Risk and safety managers can view positivity rates and trend lines by zip code on Quest Diagnostics’ interactive Drug Testing Index map. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?


I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?


Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?


A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]