Quest Diagnostics tested about nine million U.S. employees for drug use last year.

Photo: Martha Asencio Rhine/Zuma Press

The number of working Americans testing positive for drugs climbed last year, particularly for marijuana, according to a new report, indicating employee drug use was on the rise just as the coronavirus pandemic created new stresses.

Overall, the percentage of U.S. workers who tested positive for drugs in urine in 2019 rose to 4.5%, the highest level in 15 years, according to Quest Diagnostics Inc., DGX -0.20% one of the largest drug-testing laboratories in the U.S., which analyzed approximately nine million tests last year on behalf of employers.

That percentage was 29% higher than the 30-year low of 3.5% a decade ago, in the early days of a resurgent heroin epidemic in the U.S. In more recent years, more positive tests for methamphetamine and cocaine have helped to fuel the increase in the share of employees testing positive for drugs.

But the greatest jump has been in workers testing positive for marijuana, which climbed 11% in 2019 in the general workforce from the year before and 29% since 2015. In that four-year span, the number of states that legalized marijuana for recreational use grew to 11 from four, plus the District of Columbia.

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