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Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Drug Testing Promotes Workplace Safety

You can maintain your program effectiveness by understanding which drugs are being abused and modifying your testing panel based on that information.

An effective drug testing program promotes a safe, productive workplace in addition to a multitude of other benefits, according to a recent industry poll. This article explores the many advantages of employee drug testing and illustrates how a program’s effectiveness is directly impacted by quickly evolving industry trends and federal testing legislation.


How Effective is Drug Testing?
Employment drug testing is a powerful risk tool that provides far-reaching organizational benefits. In addition to promoting a safer, more productive workplace, it can help to decrease employee turnover and absenteeism, reduce employer risk, and lower workers’ compensation incidence rates, according to Drug Testing Efficacy 2011, a recent poll conducted by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA). The poll, one of the most comprehensive and current surveys regarding drug testing available today, questioned employers ranging from 500 to 2,500 employees, most of which were publicly owned, for-profit organizations. The following key points were discovered:

  • What percentage of organizations conducted pre-employment drug testing in 2011? More than half of the organizations (57 percent) indicated they conduct drug testing on all job candidates. More than one-quarter (29 percent) of the organizations do not have a pre-employment drug testing program.
  • Is there a connection between drug testing programs and absenteeism? Yes. In organizations with high employee absenteeism rates (more than 15 percent), the implementation of a drug testing program appears to have an impact. Nine percent of organizations reported high absenteeism rates (more than 15 percent) prior to a drug testing program, whereas only 4 percent of organizations reported high absenteeism rates after the implementation of a drug testing program, a decrease of approximately 50 percent.
  • Are workers’ compensation incidence rates affected by drug testing programs? Yes. In organizations with high workers’ compensation incidence rates (more than 6 percent), the implementation of a drug testing program appears to have an impact. Fourteen percent of organizations reported high workers’ compensation incidence rates prior to a drug testing program, whereas only 6 percent of organizations reported similar rates of workers’ compensation after the implementation of a drug testing program, a decrease of approximately 50 percent.
  • Do drug testing programs improve employee productivity rates? Nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of organizations experienced an increase in productivity after the implementation of a drug testing program.
  • How much of an impact do drug testing programs have on employee turnover rates? Sixteen percent of organizations saw a decrease in employee turnover rates after the implementation of drug testing programs.
  • Do multinational organizations apply similar drug testing protocols/policies in the United States and globally? Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of organizations with multinational operations indicated that all, almost all, or some of the same protocols/policies are applied while conducting drug tests outside the United States.


Maintaining Program Efficacy
Just as there are many types of drug testing programs, ranging from those regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to privately developed and managed programs, there are also many testing options available today. However, in order to create the most appropriate and effective testing program, you must first understand what’s happening in the industry.

The drug testing industry was born 30 years ago, after the launch of federal drug testing requirements in the 1980s. A lot has changed in 30 years. The types of drugs being abused are quickly evolving, and so are the abusers.

  • While marijuana is still the number one most-abused drug globally, prescription drugs have moved into second place, overshadowing cocaine. Technology has played a big role in these changes. For example, the street distributor has morphed into the Internet distributor, making it easier than ever to access prescription medication without ever visiting a doctor.
  • The use of pill mills, which are clinics, doctors, or pharmacies that are prescribing large amounts of prescription medication for non-medical use, is also becoming prominent in the United States, prompting abusers to travel across state lines to access these mills.

In lock step with these trends, new federal legislation and program guidelines are also appearing. For example, in addition to standard illicit drugs, prescription medication and designer drugs must now be considered for testing. Just two years ago, in October 2010, DOT expanded its standard test panel to include Ecstasy as part of the amphetamines drug panel and also lowered cutoff levels of testing for amphetamines and cocaine. The result was as expected: DOT-regulated programs are seeing an increase in positives for both categories.

Now, the U.S. government is enhancing its program even further. A breakthrough this year has been the approval by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of the recommendations made by the Drug Test Advisory Board (DTAB), which include testing for synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, also known as Vicodin or Oxycontin, by their brand names. Additionally, DTAB recommended using oral fluid testing as an alternative testing method. The process for DOT to implement these recommendations still could take years, but this is a big first step in modifying the federal drug testing program, one that provides guidance on potential drugs you can test for within your own program.

Designer drugs such as synthetic marijuana and synthetic amphetamines are also on the federal government’s radar. Known as K2/Spice and Bath Salts, these drugs are manufactured and marketed in such a way as to avoid legal roadblocks to distribution, which makes testing for them difficult and expensive. President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 into law on July 9, 2012, as part of S. 3187, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. The legislation bans synthetic compounds commonly found in synthetic marijuana (“K2” or “Spice”), synthetic stimulants (“Bath Salts”), and hallucinogens by placing them under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

This new law will make it easier for law enforcement agencies to take action against the manufacturers, importers, and sellers of these products. While this represents progress in the battle against synthetic drugs, authorities must continue to monitor and update the list of prohibited substances as manufacturers modify the composition of the drugs to circumvent legislation. Some employers have begun testing for these types of drugs in reasonable cause situations.

While DOT and most non-regulated employers test a standard five-panel, these changes in prescription and designer drug abuse are creating a legitimate opportunity for employers to expand that panel to include additional drugs. For example, LexisNexis Occupational Health Services, Inc. a large third party administrator, notes that its manufacturing customers are moving to a nine-panel test with an additional two drugs -— hydrocodone and oxycodone. An effective drug testing program promotes a safe, productive workplace. By monitoring industry trends, you can maintain your program effectiveness by understanding which drugs are being abused and modifying your testing panel based on that information. Likewise, laws and regulations will help dictate what can be tested and how that testing should be conducted. Information from DEA about common drugs of abuse is available here.

It is always recommended that employers retain internal or external legal counsel specializing in drug testing to review drug and alcohol testing laws in the states where their applicants and employees reside, and states where they have physical locations. An organization such as DATIA is also a great resource to help you stay updated on drug testing industry trends and legislation. Visit the website to learn more about DATIA and membership opportunities.




Bus drivers were given brownies laced with pot in San Diego

A bus driver brought brownies to work and offered them to other drivers. Three ate brownies, but they didn’t know they were laced with pot. The three drivers were told to undergo drug counseling after the incident, but two of them refused.

San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) bus driver Ku’uipoaloha Lawler is accused of providing the pot brownies to the other drivers. MTS fired him, and San Diego police have turned over results of their investigation to the District Attorney for consideration.

There was more controversy about what should happen to the three drivers who unknowingly consumed pot in the brownies.

On the day Lawler brought the brownies to work, all three of the drivers who ate them went on their regular routes but pulled over when they realized what was happening. MTS sent replacement drivers to take over.

The three drivers were required to provide urine samples and were placed on paid leave. MTS said they had to submit to substance-abuse counseling before returning to work in a capacity other than driving a bus.

One driver agreed to the conditions, but two objected and refused to go to the counseling.

Mark Hall, one of the two drivers who objected to the MTS conditions, took his case public, to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

It certainly didn’t seem fair that Hall and the two other drivers had to undergo drug counseling when they didn’t know they were eating pot brownies.

Hall says people even asked Lawler whether the brownies had pot in them, and he denied it.

Federal regulations kick in

But there was a problem: Federal Transit Administration safety regulations require bus drivers to undergo substance-abuse counseling when they have a positive drug test.

MTS said it wanted to treat the drivers fairly, but it had to wait for a federal waiver.

About a month after the incident, the feds finally issued the waiver. The three drivers didn’t have to undergo counseling, and they were allowed to return to bus driving.

Although the MTS employees needed a waiver from federal regulations to go back to driving, they wouldn’t have faced criminal DUI charges if they were pulled over. Criminal law has an exception for involuntary intoxication when the affected person didn’t know they were ingesting a mind-altering substance.

Do you think the system worked as it should have in this case, or should it have been easier for the three bus drivers to go back to their jobs?

October 19, 2012 by Fred HosierImage

What is Hair Drug Testing, also known as Hair Follicle Testing?

Since hair growth is fed by the bloodstream, the ingestion of drugs of abuse is revealed by analyzing a small sample of hair. Our testing method measures the drug molecules embedded inside the hair shaft, eliminating external contamination as a source of a positive test result. Hair testing results cannot be significantly altered with shampoos or other external chemicals.

What drugs are included in a standard Hair Drug Test?
Cocaine, marijuana, opiates (Codeine, Morphine & 6-monoacteyl morphine), methamphetamine, (Meth/amphetamine & Ecstasy), and phencyclidine (PCP).

Cocaine, methamphetamine, opiates and PCP are rapidly excreted and usually undetectable in urine 72 hours after use. The detection period for hair is limited only by the length of the hair sample and is approximately 90 days for a standard test.

 What time period does a hair test cover?
A standard test covers a period of approximately 90 days. The hair sample is cut as close to the scalp as possible and the most recent 1.5 inches are tested

How does Hair Testing compare to urinalysis?
The primary differences are
1) wider window of detection
2) inability to tamper with the test. Since hair tests analyze the drugs inside the hairshaft, external contaminants/chemicals have no effect

How effective is Hair Testing in detecting drug users?
In side-by-side comparison studies with urinalysis, hair drug testing has uncovered significantly more drug use. In two independent studies hair drug testing uncovered 4 to 8 times as many drug users as urinalysis.

Does hair color affect results?
Hair color is determined by the amount of melanin in the hair. It has been shown experimentally, through actual hair samples, as well as determined in court that hair color has NO basis in fact. At this time there are no known adulterants for hair tests

How fast does head hair grow?
Studies indicate that head hair grows on the average approximately 1.3 cm (or 1/2 inch) per month.

How much hair is needed?
A standard test with GC/MS confirmation requires 60+ milligrams of hair or approximately 90 to 120 strands. The thickness of different types of head hair (thick coarse vs. thinning fine) is the reason for this variation.


How soon after use can a drug be detected in hair?
It takes approximately 4-5 days from the time of drug use for the affected hair to grow above the scalp. Body hair growth rates are generally slower and cannot be utilized to determine a timeframe of drug use.

What is the shortest time period that can be evaluated?
The minimum time period is approximately two weeks (1/4 inch). Body hair can be used if head hair is too short for a test. If body hair is used the timeframe represented by the test is approximately one year, due to the different growth pattern in hair below the neck.

Can tests be run on people with little hair?
Hair can be collected from several head locations and combined to obtain the required amount of hair. In addition, body hair may be used as a substitute to head hair.

Does body hair give the same type of results as head hair?
Yes, body hair can be used to test for the five standard drug classes, though body hair growth patterns are different than head hair. Most body hair is replaced within approximately one year. This means a test done with body hair will be reported as drug usage during approximately a one year timeframe.

Can hair collected from a brush be used?
Yes, but the test will be reported as having an “anonymous” donor. We cannot attribute the sample to any specific person and we cannot determine the timeframe of the test, so the test result is not legally defensible. The test will only report that the sample submitted had the reported drug metabolite components.

Can hair be affected by cross-reacting substances such as over-the-counter medications?
Enzyme-immunoassay antibodies (EIA), similar to those used to test urine, are used for the initial screening test for drugs of abuse in hair; therefore the potential for substances such as over-the-counter medications to cause a false positive screening result does exist. To eliminate the possibility of reporting a false-positive due to cross-reactivity, the lab confirms all positive results by GC/MS for methamphetamine, opiates, PCP, cocaine and marijuana.

Does external exposure to certain drugs, like marijuana or crack smoke, affect the Hair Test results?
To rule out the possibility of external contamination, testing (where appropriate) the lab looks for both parent & metabolite (bi-product) of drug usage. For marijuana analyses, lab detects only the metabolite (THC-COOH) . This metabolite is only produced by the body and cannot be an environmental contaminant.

How do I know if a company’s drivers fall into the DOT-FMCSA required drug/alcohol program?

The criteria for the FMCSA drug/alcohol program includes drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMV) used in interstate or intrastate commerce that:

  • Have a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more inclusive of a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds.
  • Have a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more;
  • Are designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or
  • Are transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring the vehicle to be placarded.


Urine vs Saliva (oral fluid) Drug Testing

Back and forth the arguments go, some for Urine testing as the drug test of choice, some for oral fluid testing as the most ‘effective’ method of testing.

The main contention between proponents of Urine v Oral Fluid testing, is the detection window of drug use that is offered, with Urine being longer than that of oral fluid testing.

Urine is able to detect a broad history of drug use. It is the detection times that mean that this is the case. Urine tests can pick up drug use days, even up to a month, depending on use. For example below; Several common types of drugs and their detection periods in urine testing:

Amphetamines (except methamphetamine)
1 to 5 days
3 to 5 days
MDMA (Ecstasy)
24 hours
2 to 7 days, up to >30 days after heavy use and/or in users with high body fat
2 to 5 days with exceptions for certain kidney disorders
2 to 3 days
2 to 4 days
3 to 4 days
3 days

Oral Fluid (saliva) on the other hand, has a more narrow window of detection, and can pick up impairment (use of a drug within the preceding hours) in the person tested.

It is for these reasons that the main sources of contention arise between proponents of each. The other reasons for friction to one method or another are more subtle.

Lack of Privacy is a commonly cited point of friction, and feeling ‘undignified’ are another argument for Saliva over Urine testing.

Urine testing can be viewed as more ‘intrusive’ by workers, who may feel it is beyond reasonable expectation to have knowledge of past drug use, up to one month for some drugs in some cases. In past it was difficult for female workers to attend urine drug tests, as no separate facilities were available, and the majority of testers were male.

Saliva is a less well known, and less trusted means of testing by some, who argue that “it is not as accurate as urine” and that “uncovering a drug culture of use in the workplace is more important than knowing if workers are high”.

Unions argue that ‘impairment’ is what a drug and alcohol testing policy is meant to uncover, and that oral fluid testing is suitable for testing ‘impairment’, that is present use of the drug that would mean the person is ‘impaired’.

Well here is some reasons I’m an advocate for Oral Fluid testing

• Fast, easy and safe specimen collection
• Non invasive
• Lower chance of adulteration compared with urine screening.
• No need for washrooms or special facilities
• Observed collection eliminates instances of sample tampering.
• Drug concentrations similar to those of blood
• More sanitary compared to urine specimen handling.
• Useful in the detection of recent drug use (up to 24 hours).
• Collection of oral fluid specimen can be viewed by a second person without infringing privacy.

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