New federally mandated cutoff levels increase drug test positives in workforce

Posted by Kristina Taylor
May 22, 2012

New federally mandated cutoff levels increase drug test positives in workforce


In 2010 the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lowered initial and confirmation cutoff levels for amphetamines and cocaine, and added additional substances including heroin and ecstacy, to their drug testing protocols for those in safety-sensitive positions, including bus drivers

In part because of the new lower cutoff levels, there has been a 33 percent jump in cocaine positives in the safety-sensitive workforce, according to new data by Quest Diagnostics. Amphetamines positives among this group also rose by nearly 26 percent, continuing an existing upward trend, but also likely boosted by better detection related to the new, lower, federally mandated cutoffs, experts say. The findings are based on 1.6 million federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce drug tests performed by Quest Diagnostics between January and December 2011.

Workers subject to these new requirements include private-sector workers for whom routine drug testing is mandated by the DOT as well as those federal employees in testing-designated positions.

Among the 4.8 million tests in the general U.S. workforce from January to December 2011, amphetamines positives are up 16.7 percent from 2010 (0.66% vs. 0.77%) and up 75 percent since 2007. Cocaine positivity is up 8 percent from 2010 (0.25% vs. 0.27%) in the general workforce, also partially driven by some private sector employers adopting the new federal standard.

The upward trends, while still a very small percentage of the workforce, underscore the importance of drug testing as part of the employment screening process, especially for those with safety-sensitive jobs.

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