Workers Are Cheating on Drug Tests Like Never Before

Quest Diagnostics describes 633% spike in swapped tests in 2023
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2024 12:15 PM CDT
Workers Are Cheating on Drug Tests Like Never Before
A court coordinator conducts a urine drug test during a group meeting in Jasper, Georgia, on April 27, 2017.   (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Most of the millions of drug screens performed in the US each year come back negative. A small but growing fraction, however, come back positive. And a rapidly increasing number show signs of tampering. Indeed, US workers are cheating on drug tests at the highest rate in decades, according to a leading drug-testing lab, which uncovered tens of thousands of tampered drug screens last year. Of 5.5 million drug screens collected from the general US workforce, 31,000 showed signs of tampering, according to Quest Diagnostics. "It's something that employers, employees, and all of us should be worried about," an official at the National Safety Council tells the Wall Street Journal.

  • Test swaps: The most common method of tampering was substituting a worker's urine sample with urine from a friend or pet. Swaps were detected in 6,000 samples for a 633% increase from 2022 and "the highest rate ever recorded by the company," per the Journal.

  • Invalid tests: Some 25,000 tests came back invalid, again the highest rate ever, up 45% from 2022. An invalid test is considered a failed drug test, one explanation being that the urine was mixed with an additive meant to conceal drug use.
  • More positives: The increases "coincide with historically high rates of both general US workforce drug positivity and post-accident marijuana positivity," per Quest. The rate of positive drug tests was 5.7% among the general US workforce and 4.6% among general and "federally mandated, safety-sensitive" workers. "This overall positivity is the highest level in more than two decades," per Quest.
  • Normalization: "It is possible that our society's normalization of drug use is fostering environments in which some employees feel it is acceptable to use such drugs without truly understanding the impact they have on workplace safety," says Dr. Suhash Harwani, Quest's director of science for workforce health solutions.

  • Marijuana use: About 4.5% of tests were flagged for marijuana, up from 4.3% in 2022. That was "the highest figure for any drug," per the Journal. The figure was even higher (5.8%) in states where recreational marijuana is legal.
  • Amphetamines: Amphetamines were the second-most flagged; its positivity rate of 1.5% was identical to 2022's figure.
(More drug test stories.)

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