Drug Testing in the Workplace Statistics: Is It Ethical in 2024?

Drug testing can enhance the safety and health of employees. It can also increase workplace productivity, reduce employers’ healthcare costs, and decrease absenteeism, which are just some of the reasons most businesses have a drug screening program.

We’ve compiled statistics to help you learn more about drug testing and how the number of employers that use drug testing has changed throughout the years. In addition, we will also show you what percentage of employees use drugs, which drugs are the most common in the workplace, what type of tests employers rely on, and much more.

Top Drug Testing in the Workplace Statistics: Editor’s Choice

  • Approximately 28% of respondents use drugs while commuting to work.
  • Almost 50% of respondents used the company’s car parking lot for doing drugs.
  • Roughly 23% of employees have tried faking the drug screening test results.
  • About 11.33% of substance abusers bought the drugs from their coworkers.
  • More than half (57.4%) of drug users aged 18–64 are full-time employees.
  • Employees who abuse drugs are ten times more likely to miss work.
  • About 20% of employees involved in fatal accidents tested positive for alcohol or drug use.
  • Between 2020 and 2021, the percentage of companies that conduct lab-based urine tests decreased from 89% to 85%.
  • Due to new legislation, nearly 10% of employees planned to remove marijuana from drug testing panels in 2021.
  • Only 1.5% of job postings in the US mentioned a mandatory pre-employment drug test.

General Drug Test Statistics

Whether we like it or not, drugs are everywhere around us, and they often find a way even to a workplace. The following statistics will show you just common drugs are in the workplace, the percentage of employees who use illicit drugs, and the most common locations for substance abuse. In addition, we also included a few statistics to briefly cover the consequences of drug usage in the workspace.

1. In 2018, 19.4% of Americans used an illegal drug.

Based on an annual drug testing research by SAMHSA, around 53.2 million Americans used illegal drugs. During the same year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention report showed that 70% of all 67,367 overdoses included an opioid.

With regular drug screening, employers can curb the use of drugs and instill good habits and help employees even outside of working hours.

2. Around 28.23% of respondents use drugs while on the way to work.

Out of all the respondents who took the survey, 22.75% responded they use drugs while on a lunch break. 

In addition, the same drug testing statistics reveal that 18.82% use drugs anytime, 11.51% in the afternoon while at work, and 10.53% in the morning while at work. Only 5.20% of respondents said they use drugs on the way home from work.

3. The car parking lot is the go-to place for 48.03% of American workers who use drugs during work hours.

Furthermore, 18.40% of respondents said they use drugs in the bathroom, 12.64% just outside the building, and 10.81% at their desk. 

Drug use in the workplace statistics also show 2.53% responded they use drugs at their coworkers’ desk, followed by 1.69% of those who do it in the supply closet and 1.54% who do it in the kitchen.

4. Roughly 23.06% of employees have cheated on a drug screening test.

Roughly 31.51% of drug users have used detox drinks to avoid getting caught by the employer. In addition, about 23.37% have reported they substituted urine samples, and 20.59% have diluted the urine sample with water. Furthermore, 17.65% have used synthetic urine, and 5.88% used diuretics.

5. Drug test facts show that 33% of drug abusers have used drugs during work hours with a coworker.

While 42.01% have never used drugs with a coworker, 3.39% of them used drugs with their superior. Interestingly, 5.03% of drug abusers have used drugs with their subordinates, while 16.72% have used drugs with their coworkers, superiors, and subordinates.

6. About 11.33% of respondents have sold drugs to their coworkers.

About 75.80% of respondents have said they have never sold any drugs to their coworkers. In contrast, drug testing in the workplace statistics by Detox show 2.23% sold drugs to their superiors, 4.16% of respondents sold drugs to their subordinates, and 6% of them sold drugs to both their superiors and their subordinates.

7. Roughly 23% of respondents purchased drugs from their coworkers.

About 58% of drug abusers have never purchased drugs from their coworkers. At the same time, around 5.13% bought the drugs from their superiors, and 6.29% got the drugs from their subordinates. Lastly, 7.55% purchase drugs from their coworkers, superiors, and subordinates.

8. Drug test failure rates from 2011 show 3.5% of 12 million employees tested positive.

The test revealed that marijuana was the most popular drug, and about 200,000 employees tested positive for marijuana use. The same year, analysts estimated that the loss in efficiency and productivity related to drug use resulted in a GDP loss of $120 billion.

9. Around 57.4% of drug users aged 18–64 are full-time employees.

Based on the Bureau of Justice data, more than half of employees use illegal drugs. Furthermore, according to the drug testing in the workplace facts by SAMSHA, 9.3 million full-time employees aged between 18 and 25 had used drugs in the last month prior to responding to the survey.

10. Employers have a $20 return on investment for every $1 spent on drug abuse prevention.

Substance abuse comes with numerous downsides, and employees under the influence often waste time and productivity, according to the Main Office of Substance Abuse. 

Employers can decrease employee absentee rates, improve productivity, and decrease healthcare costs with regular drug screening. Drug test facts reveal that drug-abuse healthcare expenses cost American companies around $81 billion every year.

11. Drug abusers are ten times more likely to miss work.

According to a nationwide study by SAMSHA, drug abusers are also three times more likely to be less productive than an average worker who doesn’t use any illegal drugs. 

Furthermore, drug abusers are four times more likely to end up in a workplace accident. In terms of healthcare, drug abusers cost the company twice as much as non-abusers and are even three times more likely to change jobs.

12. Employment drug screening facts show around 20% of on-the-job fatalities test positive for alcohol or drugs.

A lot of injuries can be prevented with regular drug screening tests. For example, Southern Pacific Railroad reduced the number of incidents from 2,234 to 322 in less than four years after the no-drug policy was implemented.

Despite that, the percentage of positive tests increased to 4.5% in 2019, which is the highest since 2004, and drug testing experts suspect the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated substance abuse.

Random Drug Testing Statistics by Industry and Occupation

The number of employees who use drugs varies from one industry to another. However, while we often perceive some occupations have a higher percentage of substance abusers, the truth is quite different.

The following statistics will show you the industries and occupations with the highest number of substance abusers compared to what we often believe is the truth.

13. Around 14.07% of retail and consumer durables workers reported using drugs during work.

In addition, drug testing in the workplace facts show 12.85% of workers in the food and beverage industry have reported using drugs at work, followed by education with 7.09%, and healthcare and pharmaceuticals with 6.38%.

While it still happens, only 3.54% of those who work for the government and 3.44% of those who work in transportation and delivery have reported using illegal drugs while on the job.

14. About 21.74% of respondents believe food and beverage-related occupations use illicit drugs the most.

Drug testing statistics show that the perception is often quite different from reality. Namely, around 13.34% of respondents believe those in the entertainment and leisure occupations are frequent drug users, while 7.11% believe it is workers in the construction, machinery, and homes profession.

Interestingly, only 3.16% of respondents think those in advertising and marketing use illicit drugs.

15. Between 2015 and 2018, the number of workers who tested positive on drug tests increased by 34.5% in the transportation and warehousing occupations, drug test statistics confirm.

Between the same years, those who use drugs at work increased only by 6.2%. While the numbers aren’t as high as is the case with marijuana usage specifically, there have been several industries that saw a double-digit increase during the same period.

The percentage of workers who tested positive between 2015 and 2018 increased by 20% in the wholesale trade, retail with 14.9%, and construction with 13.2%. Similarly, the number increased by 12.2% in administrative support, waste management, and remediation services.

Employee Drug Tests Statistics

Employers started drug testing employees nearly four decades ago. The percentage of employers with drug screening programs mainly remained untouched throughout the years. The types of tests for drug testing changed.

16. The percentage of companies that conduct lab-based urine tests decreased by 4% between 2020 and 2021.

In 2020, roughly 89% of employers used lab-based urine tests, and the number dropped to 85% just a year later. Furthermore, drug test accuracy statistics reveal hair testing as one of the most reliable drug tests. Despite its cost, the number of employers that use hair testing increased from 13% in 2020 to 24% in 2021.

17. Approximately 5.56% of employers plan to add oral fluid testing.

Instant urine and instant oral fluid screening have become significantly more popular. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of employers that use instant urine screening increased from 30% to 36%.

At the same time, random drug testing in the workplace facts show the number also increased for businesses that use instant oral fluid screening, from 8% in 2020 to 12% in 2021.

18. Around 14% of employers have changed their drug testing programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interestingly, about 7% of employers stopped all drug testing during the pandemic, while 10% decreased the number of testing. Between 2019 and 2020, there was a 15% decrease in drug testing for First Advantage clients, which led to a 17% increase in post-accident positivity.

Drug testing in the workplace statistics show the post-accident positivity increased by as much as 74% compared to the year prior in the transportation industry.

19. In 2021, around 9% of employers planned to remove marijuana from drug testing panels.

In today’s time, marijuana is legalized in several countries in the US, and 35% of employers that plan to remove marijuana from drug screening tests are concerned about lawsuits and legal liability.

20. In 2018, 63% of organizations conducted some form of alcohol or drug screening tests.

Random drug testing statistics show that the number of businesses using alcohol or drug screening tests remained relatively the same for almost a decade. While it did reach 78% in 2012 and 2013, it quickly dropped down 58% just a year later in 2014.

Roughly 51% of companies used the eCOC form. In contrast, 42% of respondents said they do not and don’t plan to, and 7% said they did not but were planning to do so in the future.

21. Of the companies that use drug or alcohol testing, around 95% conducted urine tests in 2018.

An average pre-employment drug test cost is around $30. However, companies also rely on other even more expensive methods. Approximately 11% perform oral fluid testing by taking employees’ saliva, 7% use hair testing, and 3% use other forms of testing.

22. Around 58% of organizations in the US used pre-employment and post-employment drug testing.

The number was even higher for businesses that had more employers. For example, 62% of the companies that employ 4,000 or more people included pre-employment or post-employment screening procedures.

23. Roughly 1.5% of job postings in the US mentioned they require pre-employment drug tests.

The percentage of companies that drug test varies from one industry to another. Namely, the most likely sectors requiring pre-employment drug testing include government-related jobs, healthcare and hospitals, manufacturing, automotive, transportation and logistics, and private security.

24. Less than 1% of job positions mention regular drug screening.

The number of job positions that mention regular drug screening is even smaller than the number of jobs that require pre-employment drug tests. The industries that usually require regular drug testing are health care and hospitals, transportation and logistics, government, automotive, manufacturing, information technology, and insurance.

25. The percentage of jobs that require drug testing was 6.79% in Arlington, Texas.

Out of 14,597 available jobs in Arlington, Texas, 991 required a pre-employment drug test. In New York, which had the most job postings with 218,179 available jobs, only 1,009 jobs (0.46%) required pre-employment drug tests. Washington D.C had 151,289 job postings and 2,220 required pre-employment drug tests.

26. About 62% of companies test all of their job candidates.

According to the latest available drug testing in the workplace statistics, some employers are selective about which employees they test. Namely, about 10% of companies have reported testing workers in safety and security concerned roles.

Furthermore, about 7% of employers tested those working in director and manager positions, while 6% of companies tested employees who work with finances. Surprisingly, some of the companies even go beyond full-time employees. 5% of companies tested temporary workers, 2% tested interns, and 1% of companies even tested volunteers.

Substance Abuse in the Workplace Statistics

Frequent substance abuse can lead to an increased tolerance level or even drug addiction. Those who develop drug addiction are not always picky about which drug they use, which might be why employees use anything from soft drugs to hard drugs like heroin or crack cocaine.

27. In 2017, around 11.4 million Americans misused opioids or used heroin.

The same year, around 15,594 reported deaths were caused by heroin, which was nearly eight times more than in 2002. In addition, approximately 6 million Americans said using cocaine in 2017.

28. Employee drug tests revealed opiates are the most popular drug among the American workforce, and 17.83% have reported using them during working hours.

In addition, 17.05% of respondents reported using benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium, 8.53% used amphetamines, and another 8.53% used cocaine. Shockingly, around 6.20% reported using heroin, and another 6.20% used methamphetamine, followed by 5.43% who used crack cocaine.

29. About 5.43% of respondents used mushrooms to get high while on the job.

In some cases, drug users will use just about anything they can get their hands on to get high. Drug use in the workplace statistics show 5.43% of respondents used research chemicals, and 1.55% used inhalants. Additionally, 4.65% used synthetic marijuana, 3.88% MDMA and PCP, and 3.10% used LSD.

30. Between 2015 and 2018, the percentage of workers who tested positive for marijuana use increased by 16.7%.

The most significant increase was in the transportation and warehousing occupation, and the number increased by 53.3% between 2015 and 2018. In addition, random drug testing in the workplace facts revealed that the number of those who tested positive for marijuana increased by 50% in the mining profession, 47.1% in wholesale trade, 46.7% in construction, and 38.5% in manufacturing.

Eight industry sectors saw a double-digit increase of employees who tested positive for marijuana use between 2015 and 2018. Interestingly, the only industry that saw a double-digit decrease during the same time period was the Information Service industry, with a 12.5% decline.

Drug Testing in the Workplace Statistics: The Takeaway

There are numerous benefits of having a drug screening program as a part of your company culture implementations. In terms of finances, regular drug testing can help reduce employee healthcare costs. Frequent substance abuse leaves drug users prone to illnesses, some of which can even be serious, affecting the liver, lung, or heart.

In addition, drug testing can improve overall workplace productivity and decrease absenteeism and accidents. With regular drug testing in place, employers can provide a safe environment for all employees and identify those with a drug abuse problem and refer them to professionals to seek help.

Unfortunately, an important thing to know for companies that drug test in 2022 is that there are also several downsides to drug testing, one of which is the invasion of people’s basic privacy. Not only that but the tests’ accuracy is often questioned, especially if you consider the fact some drugs can be detected in your system months after you have used them.

Granted, while you should remain sober, focused, and alert during work hours, you should not feel ostracized by the employer for the things you do in your free time.

As things currently stand, employers need to outweigh the pros and cons of drug testing in the workplace and find a middle ground that suits both parties. More importantly, tests need to be appropriately designed and conducted, with the primary goal being to improve employee health in an ethically acceptable manner.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did drug testing start?

The first drug screening started in the military. Many soldiers who returned from Vietnam used heroin before, which prompted the US Army to start testing active military personnel eventually. After a Marine Corps jet crashed in 1981 and caused the death of 14 crew members, the US Army implemented a strict no-tolerance policy.

Seeing the effectiveness drug screening had on the military, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Department of Transportation started using their drug screening tests. After the number of accidents related to drugs or alcohol use reached concerning levels, the National Transportation Safety Board suggested that a drug testing policy should be implemented, which ultimately led to President Reagan signing the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 that allowed pre-employment drug testing based on reasonable suspicion.

How common are employment drug tests?

According to the latest data available, roughly 63% of organizations conduct some form of alcohol or drug test. The numbers haven’t changed much throughout the years. For example, in 2014, the number of employers who used drug screening was 58%. The only significant uptick was nearly two decades ago, between 2012 and 2013, when the number increased to 78%.

How do drug tests work?

The way a drug test works depends on the test the company uses. About 85% of companies conduct urine tests, 21% take saliva, 24% use hair testing, and 3% of companies use other methods of testing.

Whenever you take drugs, your body tries to get rid of the chemicals in those drugs through urine. That way, drug tests can detect whether there are traces of drugs in your urine. Opioids like heroin and oxycodone are detectable for one to three days after last use, while stimulants like meth and cocaine are detectable two to three days after last use. Benzodiazepines and MDA can be traced up to 4 days, while marijuana can be detected between one and seven days after last use.

Among the various tests, blood tests are most reliable for determining whether the individual is under the influence of drugs. When it comes to hair testing, these tests can detect drugs in your system for up to 90. However, hair testing is the least invasive, but it is also the most expensive method.

Is drug testing effective in the workplace?

Simply put, yes. Drug testing can improve productivity and reduce absenteeism. At the same time, drug testing can reduce healthcare costs for businesses, considering that frequent drug abuse can lead to various health problems.

Namely, frequent drug abusers are prone to more illnesses, and some of those include even serious health problems such as liver, lung, and heart disease. Most importantly, however, drug testing can reduce the number of incidents during working hours, especially those with fatal outcomes.

What percentage of employers do drug testing?

It is estimated that around 85% of employers do drug testing. However, according to research by Forbes Magazine, only 1.5% of job postings reported they require pre-employment drug testing, while only 0.66% mentioned they do regular drug testing.

Additionally, it is essential to know that the number of employers that require drug testing can vary from state to state or position to position. For example, around 6.79% of 14,597 job postings in Arlington, Texas, required pre-employment drug tests. At the same time, in New York, only 0.46% of job postings required pre-employment drug tests.

How many employees fail drug tests?

Based on the latest data, about 4.5% of employees in 2019 failed drug tests, which presents the biggest increase in nearly two decades. Namely, in 2004, the number of employees who failed drug tests was also 4.5%.

While there is no new data yet, drug testing experts project that the number might be even higher today and that the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 had only helped accelerate substance abuse.

Is drug testing employees ethical?

In most cases, yes. If the tests are appropriately designed and executed, drug testing in the workplace can protect and improve employee health in an ethically acceptable manner. 

Generally speaking, the business that conducts drug testing should have a written company policy on substance abuse, the consequences of testing positive, reasons for testing, and much more, all of which should be applied impartially.

When do companies drug test?

In many cases, companies will require a mandatory drug test pre-employment. Similarly, many organizations will have mandatory drug and alcohol screening tests post-accident to determine whether substance abuse led to an accident.

This is especially the case in situations where an accident causes an injury or a fatality. Employers might also test at random or if they have a reasonable suspicion, such as slurred speech, uncoordinated movements, or erratic behavior.

Why should drug testing be mandatory in the workplace?

We can take from these drug testing in the workspace statistics that drug testing has numerous benefits for both employers and employees. Drug testing increases productivity, reduces absentee rates and reduces healthcare costs. In addition, drug testing can potentially improve the health and safety of everyone in the workplace.

For employees, regular drug tests can lower the risk of addiction, deter employees from using drugs in the future, and risk suffering ill effects caused by frequent substance abuse.


Detox, Drug Policy Facts, First Advantage, Forbes, Good Hire, HR Screening, National Drug Screening, National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, Society for Human Resource Management, Test Country