Study Shows Decline in Employee Cocaine Use


A study conducted by Quest Diagnostics, a leading provider of substance abuse screening services for U.S. employers, shows that employees testing positive for cocaine has significantly declined over the past 20 years.  Since 1988, the positive rate of cocaine use among employees has dropped 10%.  Barry Sample, Director of Science and Technology for the Employer Solutions division of Quest attributes the decline in cocaine use to more employers conducting pre-employment and random drug testing.

While cocaine use is down, the study also illustrates that amphetamine use is up, as well as use of drugs belonging to the benzodiazepine family.  Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for anti-anxiety, pain and insomnia, among others.  The study does not indicate whether this rise is a result of abuse or a valid diagnosis by a doctor.

Job-Related Drug Tests Show Progress, Mostly

By Shirley S. Wang, The Wall Street Journal – May 6, 2009

Fewer U.S. employees and job applicants appeared to be using cocaine in 2008 compared with 2007, but slightly more used amphetamines, according to new drug testing data from Quest Diagnostics, a large provider of employer drug testing services in the U.S.

Also, in recent years, more employees tested positive for use of certain prescription drugs, like benzodiazepines, which are anti-anxiety medications, and oxycodone, a type of painkiller. But it’s not clear from the data whether individuals are appropriately using these drugs appropriately or abusing them, according to Barry Sample, director of science and technology for the employer solutions division of Quest.

Overall, Quest’s rate of positive drug tests primarily for illegal substances has continued to decrease steadily over the last 20 years. Positive urine drug tests decreased to 3.6% in 2008 from 13.6% in 1988.

The detection of cocaine use declined to 0.41% of the 5.7 million samples in 2008, a 29% decline from 2007. Amphetamine or stimulant use rose slightly for the third in a row, which Sample says could be related to users switching from methamphetamine to different stimulants, including medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Overall, 3.6% of pre-employment tests and 5.3% of random tests came back positive, Quest said. For individuals who knew that a drug test could be coming, the positive screening rates were 1.7% in pre-employment tests and 1.4% in random testing, suggesting that drug testing discourages drug use, according to Sample. Quest conducted 7.3 million urine drug tests in 2008.

“While we’re encouraged by some of these declines we’re seeing, it really is reflective to a large extent that these employers conduct employee screening in the first place,” Sample told the Health Blog.