Indications that your company might have a drug problem

A lot of companies in safety-sensitive industries don’t do drug testing. If this is you, you should be!

Drug testing is an easy way to take your management headaches away: it helps cover your legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace, and you’ll often find that the most difficult employees actually have a drug problem affecting their performance.
These people can then be helped to change (if they want to change) or helped to find a different job (if they don’t want to change).

Does your company experience any of the following?

  • Repetitive staff absences with little or no explanation
  • Constant low-level machinery and vehicle damage
  • Instances of dishonesty and theft
  • Large variations in productivity from day-to-day with individual people, i.e. mood swings, erratic behaviour and forgetfulness
  • Tasks completed poorly or not at all
  • High levels of disciplinary actions undertaken
  • Sudden unexplained drops in performance
  • Particular individuals that pick fights, or are often irritable
  • These are common symptoms seen when someone is abusing drugs. If they’re erratic at work, they’re also unsafe at work.

If they get hurt in an accident, what is your legal liability in that case?

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Question: what other drugs are you seeing in the market?

The new oral fluid drug testing standard (AS/NZS 4760:2019) lists oxycodone as a drug to be tested for.
At this stage, it’s looking likely that this will be the case in the updated AS/NZS 4308 standard.

Addiction treatment centres and the drug courts are seeing an increase in the use of self-administered GHB. This is difficult to test for as the detection window is very short, and the most common tests cross-react with vitamin C.

We would like to know what drugs you are seeing in the marketplace, that need to be tested for? Send an email to support@sobercheck.co.nz to let us know.

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Shipping is an issue: order early, keep a stock of equipment on hand

Almost all drug testing equipment used in New Zealand is manufactured in China, so we are subject to the same shipping issues that almost every other industry is now facing.

Sea shipments are taking an extra month to arrive currently, and if a shipment is delayed it can take another 2 – 3 months to arrive.

Sober Check is upping our order levels to keep more drug testing equipment in New Zealand, but different products are affected differently

To make sure your business is safe:

  • Keep equipment in reserve yourself. If you usually order monthly, order two months’ worth in your next order.
    Next month, order your usual monthly amount again. Use the older equipment, and put the newer equipment in storage to be used next month.
    You’ll be operating with one month’s reserve, instead of having no reserve at all.
    If cashflow is an issue, build up the one month’s reserve slowly: over the next 4 months, order an additional 25%.
  • Place orders with plenty of time. If you have plenty of equipment in reserve, then this can be used for any jobs that come up suddenly. You can then place an order to top up the reserve equipment to where it should be, and there will be no urgency for this order – stress free!
  • Plan ahead. Take advantage of shipping issues as an opportunity to nail testing times, dates and numbers down in advance.
    If you provide drug testing services for other companies, work with your customers to plan out a testing schedule for the rest of the year. Often customers are happy to have this sorted upfront, rather than having to think about it every month!
    If you do drug testing in-house for your company, work out a tentative testing schedule for the year ahead. You can then work out how much equipment you need, and when you will need it by.

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Reader responses to: court case where confirmation testing wasn’t completed, 2021

We had an interesting response from a reader, regarding last the previous newsletter email (shared with permission, edited for clarity):

Thank you for your email, and very interesting case. Please note below my thoughts:

  1. The Commissioner in this case, in my opinion, has erred in the decision and the decision should be set aside.
  2. No empirical evidence was presented to suggest the donor had indeed consumed Cannabis, other than his admission. He may have purchased “oregano”.
  3. The onsite test is indicative only. Several other drugs can trigger a “not negative” result for the THC screen.
  4. Let’s assume the donor did indeed consume cannabis. There is no empirical evidence it had exceeded the cut-off (both onsite and confirmatory).
  5. Onsite at best works at +25% / -30% cut-off, more like +/- 50% cut off. This means the sample can be either not negative or negative between the range of 25 – 75 μg/L.

In my opinion, and if I was on the other side… this would have been a totally different decision.

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Court case where confirmation testing wasn’t completed, 2021

In the previous newsletter email (not posted on the blog) we asked a question for the crowd.

To be fully compliant in a workplace drug testing situation, is it necessary to:

  • send every not-negative drug test result to a laboratory for confirmation testing? or
  • use discretion in some cases to stop the process at the not-negative stage, and take disciplinary action from there?

There were some interesting responses.
Let’s examine the recent court case Edward Remihana v Rigweld Engineering (2020).

The circumstances were:

  • Rigweld Engineering employed Mr Remihana as a rigger. When he was employed, he signed an employment agreement, which had the following clause:
    23.2: […] Accordingly the Employer reserves the right to require you to submit to random testing for non-prescribed drugs, stimulants and alcohol. These tests may be issued by us or by a customer that we work for and may be a requirement of entry on to their work sites.
  • He also completed induction, and attended the regular monthly meetings where the zero-tolerance policy towards drug use was stressed.
  • Mr Remihana was randomly selected for a drug test. He informed his supervisor that he would probably fail the test, due to cannabis use the night before.
  • The test results came back not-negative, as expected. Mr Remihana accepted that he had failed the test.
  • The test wasn’t sent on to the laboratory for confirmatory testing.
  • The disciplinary process went through as normal. Mr Remihana mentioned that a dismissal wouldn’t look good on his record, and was told that a resignation would be accepted instead.
  • Mr Remihana resigned the same day, and later took Rigweld Engineering to court for constructive dismissal.

The following statements from the Employment Relations Authority are interesting:

Was Mr Remihana unjustifiably dismissed by Rigweld?
I find that the impetus for resignation came from Mr Remihana, there was no pressure placed on him to resign and had he not done so Rigweld would have proceeded to dismiss him on the basis of the non-negative drug test as indicated. However before Rigweld dismissed Mr Remihana he chose to resign by email dated 13 November 2020.
I find that […] Mr Remihana was not unjustifiably dismissed with Rigweld.

Was Mr Remihana unjustifiably disadvantaged by Rigweld not having completed the process in terms of AS/NZS 4308:2008?
As observed above, given Mr Remihana’s admission and the subsequent events, I determine that Rigweld acted reasonably and Mr Remihana was not unjustifiably disadvantaged by Rigweld not having completed the process in terms of AS/NZS 4308:2008.

This is interesting!

It suggests that, in some cases, it isn’t necessary to take the process through to laboratory confirmation.

For this case, it was dependent on everything else being done right:

  • Mr Remihana’s admission that he had been smoking cannabis, and acceptance of the test results
  • An investigation meeting was held before any decision to dismiss was made
  • Mr Remihana was given the chance to bring a support person
  • The entire company was bound by the same drug & alcohol testing policy, so going to another job role in the same company wasn’t an option
  • Regular mention was made of the company’s zero-tolerance approach towards drugs & alcohol

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Cross-reacting medications for Amphetamines

Cross-reactants are molecules which are very similar to the substance being tested for. When someone has consumed these recently, there is the chance that it will show as a false positive result.

Discovering these tends to be a case of trial and error – it can be hard to predict beforehand whether any given substance will cause issues.
There aren’t many cross-reactants, compared to the infinitude of medications and substances available to consume!

Here’s a list of medications that can give false positive readings for amphetamines. Most of these are fairly rare, and some of these have been withdrawn and are no longer available legally.

  • Buflomedil, used for treating artery disease. Brand name Loftyl.
  • Brompheniramine, an antihistamine. Brand name Dimetapp.
  • Chlorpromazine, used to treat psychosis, severe depression, and nausea. Brand names Thorazine and Largactil.
  • Fenfluramine, an amphetamine derivative used to treat seizures. Brand name Fintepla.
  • Isometheptene, used to treat migraines. Brand names Amidrine and Nodolor.
  • Mexiletine, used to treat abnormal heart rhythms and chronic pain. Brand names Mexitil and NaMuscla.
  • A metabolite of procainamide, which is used for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias. Brand name is Procainamide.
  • Perazine, used to treat psychosis. Generic drug.
  • Phenmetrazine, used to suppress appetite and also as a stimulant. Withdrawn from the market, as it was widely abused. As an example, in 1963 Lee Harvey Oswald was in custody for the assassination of JFK. A nightclub owner named Jack Ruby walked to the police headquarters and shot Lee Harvey Oswald, who died within a few hours. Jack Ruby was on phenmetrazine at the time!
  • Phentermine, a weight loss medication which is also a form of amphetamine. Brand name Ionamin.
  • Phenylpropanolamine, a decongestant. Brand names Proin, Propalin, Cystolamine, Uricon and Uriflex-PT.
  • Promethazine, an antihistamine. Brand name Allersoothe.
  • Quinacrine, anti-malarial and also used to treat some skin conditions. Brand names Mepacrine and Atabrine.
  • Ranitidine, used for treating reflux. Brand names Zantac, Ranitidine and Peptisoothe.
  • Tolmetin, an anti-inflammatory drug. Brand name Tolectin.

There is nothing certain about any of the above. When in doubt, ask for advice and send the sample to a laboratory for confirmation testing.

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