2015 Federal Urine Drug Testing Data – A Perspective for Employers


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Division of Workplace Programs (DWP) compiles annual statistical data from the 30 SAMHSA certified drug testing laboratories of urine drug testing conducted under federal regulations (HHS, DOT, and NRC). In 2015, there were 6.7 million federal drug tests conducted: 1.89% were confirmed positive for drugs; 0.06% were adulterated or substituted; 0.11% were invalid. So, the overall non-negative rate was 2.08%. The drug positive rate is the highest in the past 5 years. While the positive rate seems low, in raw numbers that means 126,630 applicants/employees in safety and security sensitive positions were positive for drugs and an additional 10,720 people submitted urine specimens that were adulterated, substituted, or invalid. In looking at the data for 2011-2015, there is clearly an increase in the drug positive rate, while the adulterated, substituted and invalid specimens have remained level.

Positive, Adulterated, Invalid, and Substituted Rates 2011-2015

  DRUG POSITIVE ADULTERATED INVALID SUBSTITUTED COMBINED RATE
2011 1.73% 0.02% 0.09% 0.04% 1.89%
2012 1.69% 0.02% 0.10% 0.04% 1.86%
2013 1.77% 0.02% 0.15% 0.04% 1.98%
2014 1.80% 0.02% 0.14% 0.04% 2.00%
2015 1.89% 0.02% 0.11% 0.04% 2.06%

There has been increased attention to the role that cheating or manipulation plays in urine drug testing. While, the SAMHSA data does not point to significant increases in adulterated, substituted, or invalid specimens, many policy and program analysts believe that the methods available to specimen donors to cheat on a urine drug test are more sophisticated and more readily available and thus not detected or identified by the laboratories. It is important for employers to ensure that when the MRO reports a cancelled/invalid test and orders a re-collection of a specimen, it is conducted as soon as practical and with no advance notice to the employee/applicant. Often the MRO will order that the re-collection of a specimen must be conducted with direct observation collection procedures and it is incumbent upon the employer to follow through with that requirement. Remember—invalid specimens are “suspect”, and only a low percentage (estimated <10%) of them are medically or physiologically explained.The drugs identified as positive are consistent with prior years and what is reported by employers. THC/marijuana positives account for 40% of the positives; amphetamines, 30% and cocaine, 12%.

Hair testing and lab-based oral fluid testing have significantly higher positive rates than urine drug testing in the non-federal workplace testing arena. One contributing factor is thought to be the relative difficulty in manipulating and subverting hair and oral fluid specimens. The federal government is working on technical guidelines for using oral fluid and hair specimens in the federally-mandated drug testing programs, as replacements for or adjuncts to the urine drug testing programs. But we are not there yet.

So, to maximize the efficacy of your federal urine drug testing program, consider the following:

  • Emphasize to urine specimen collectors the importance of the pre-collection specimen integrity procedures (securing collection site/toilet enclosure, ensure donor washes hands, thoroughly checking donor pockets, making sure that donor carries nothing into toilet enclosure with him/her, etc.)
  • Emphasize to collectors the importance of inspecting the specimen when presented by the donor to complete the integrity checks (specimen temperature, volume, color, odor, etc.) and if the specimen fails any of those checks to conduct a second specimen collection using direct observation procedures.
  • Deter cheating on the urine drug test by ensuring there is no advance warning of testing and if a post-accident or reasonable suspicion test, escort or accompany donor to the collection facility.
  • Follow-up closely on tests reported as cancelled/invalid where MRO has ordered an immediate, no-notice re-collection of a specimen. Ensure collector knows that the collection must include direct observation procedures when so ordered by the MRO.

WorkforceQA manages 10,000+ employers’ drug testing programs across the country. To learn more about how WorkforceQA may assist you in more effectively deterring and detecting drug abuse in the workforce CONTACT US HERE.