Drug and Alcohol Testing

Testing workers for drugs and alcohol can sometimes be controversial, but it can also be a vital part of your safety program.

In one study, workers tested for drugs and alcohol on “random and unannounced” schedules reported substantially lower accident rates, after any volume of testing occasions.

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Remember, drug and alcohol testing doesn't have to be about punishing workers, it can be about

  • Correcting unsafe behaviours
  • Improving your team's health
  • Increasing productivity
  • Lifting team morale
  • Intervening before an accident happens

When should you drug test?

There are a variety of prompts to conduct testing. An effective drug and alcohol program could include any or all of these, depending on the nature of your business.

Testing occasion
Description

Pre-employment or pre-deployment

Testing employees before they join your organisation, or before they are deployed on an assignment

Blanket testing

Testing all employees in a single event 

Random testing

Randomly selecting a proportion of employees to be tested 

Post-incident

Conducting a test after an accident, potential accident, or 'near miss' 

'For cause' testing

When a supervisor has concerns about an employee's behaviour, they might request a drug and alcohol test

Self-testing

Providing workers with access to the means to test themselves, to assure they attend work in safety 

Return to work

If a worker has previously returned a positive test, they might be required to test negative before returning to duty 

 

How should you conduct testing?

Depending on your program's aims and goals, your facilities, and even your industry, there are a few options when it comes to selecting a testing medium. Medvet can help you select and manage a program involving oral fluid, urine or hair testing.

Oral fluid testing Urine testing Hair testing

Oral Fluid

Urine

Hair

  • Detects drug use in hours to days
  • Preliminary on-site screen results
  • Detects drug use in days to weeks
  • Preliminary on-site screen results
  • Detects drug use in months
  • Laboratory reports results

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Oral Fluid Drug Testing

Oral fluid, often referred to as saliva, can contain detectable levels of prohibited substance for hours or perhaps days after consumption. By using an oral fluid swab and immunoassay panel, these can be identified on-site. Saliva drug testing devices can use either neat oral fluid, or be diluted with further liquids contained within the device. While dilute can be effective, Medvet generally recommends a device that tests neat oral fluid - that is, a specimen alone, without anything else introduced. This allows devices such as the Medvet Oral7 to provide a more reliable, accurate result.

If the on-site result is non-negative, a further specimen is collected into a device such as the UltraSal-2, often into two discrete samples. This allows the first, or 'A-Sample', to be tested by a qualified laboratory. The second ('B-Sample') is then available shoudl the donor dispute the outcome, and wish to have it referred to a secondary laboratory. Only when the laboratory has issued a report is the result considered 'positive,' and should action be taken under your organisation's AOD policy.

Urine Drug Testing

Urine can contain detectable levels of drugs (or their metabolites) for days or even weeks after consumption. The sample is collected by the donor after the bathroom in use is secured to eliminate the possibility of adulteration or tampering, but respecting the donor's privacy. The urine specimen is tested by immunoassay, either on a cassette type device, or in a cup, like our OneScreen Cup  or SureStep Cup

Again, if the on-site result is non-negative, the sample must be issued to the laboratory for confirmation testing. Rather than collecting additional specimens as with oral fluid, the Collector will generally split the tested specimen into A- and B-samples, and package for the laboratory. The lab then reports their testing result, for further action as necessary under your drug and alcohol policy.

Hair Drug Testing 

Hair testing for drugs of abuse provides a longer-term view of drug use. The general rule of thumb is that hair grows around one centimetre (1 cm) per month. When drugs are consumed, trace evidence of this is secreted as the hair grows, meaning there can be detectable levels of drugs, and a rough estimate of when the growing hair was exposed to the substance. Medvet generally recommends hair is cut from the scalp in a small selection of strands, and the first 3 cm (roughly three months' growth) is tested by a qualified laboratory. Longer strands can be tested further, but the presence of drugs can be less apparent as the hair ages. 

This type of test is often mislabeled as hair follicle testing. The follicle is the tag of skin at the scalp-end of a hair sample, produced when hair is plucked out, rather than cut. While this may be an important part of forensics, it is not used for drug testing, as the skin is not tested for presence of these substances, and therefore we do not tear out hair samples - an obviously more uncomfortable experience for a donor!

What drug groups should you include in your testing?

There are a number of drug groups that can impact your business. The images below highlight some of the most common, but depending on your workforce or industry, you might also be interested in testing for anabolic steroids, synthetic cannabinoids or cathinones, or other substances. Medvet can work with you to develop a testing program that meets your needs, and Australian Standards.

Alcohol Amphetamines

Opiates

Alcohol

Meth/amphetamines

Opiates 

 

Benzodiazepines

 

THC

Cocaine

Benzodiazepines 

THC (Cannabis)

Cocaine 

 

Alcohol

Alcohol is ubiquitous, and a major part of Australian social culture. While it might be readily available and legal to consume, because it is a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant, it can cause havoc if improperly consumed at or before work. CNS depressants slow down the brain's communication with the body, impacting reaction time, risk assessment, and decision-making. This is the reason drink-driving laws have been in effect across Australia for decades - but people still consistently break these laws. Setting prescribed breath-alcohol or blood-alcohol limits in your policy, and then screening workers for the presence of alcohol helps ensure safety at the work, and reduce risk.

Amphetamine-type Substances (ATS)

ATS is a group of drugs that include common substances such as methamphetamine ('ice') and MDMA (a component in many substances sold as 'ecstasy'). These are CNS stimulants. As the opposite of depressants, these speed up messages between the brain and body, often consumed to give the user the impression of being more alert or energetic. This can increase risk-taking behaviours, cause overconfidence and poor risk-assessment, and can induce anxiety, paranoia, and even seizures.

Benzodiazepines

Another CNS depressant, benzodiazepines are a group of tranquilisers available via a prescribing doctor. They are often used to treat sleep or anxiety problems in patients. Because they are legally available to some, 'benzos' are often misused or made available to users without a legitimate prescription. This group includes common substances such as diazepam, oxazepam or temazepam, and marketed under commonly-known brand names like Valium, Ativan, and Alepam, but there are many more formulations and brands. For the workplace these again cause poor decision-making, decreasing risk-awareness, and slow reactions in safety situations.

Cannabis (THC)

Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the main psychoactive chemicals found in cannabis or marijuana. Cannabis is still the most widely used illicit drug, and the most prevalent substance after alcohol. As with the other CNS depressants, use of cannabis reduces the ability to assess risk, and respond to safety issues. Short term impacts can last longer than the initial 'high', and long-term or chronic use can cause serious psychological harm. Social attitudes toward cannabis are evolving as some jurisdictions internationally relax prohibition, but this drug remains proscribed in Australia, due to its safety concerns.

Cocaine

The final major group of drugs is the widely-known cocaine. 'Coke' as it is often called, is another CNS stimulant, derived from the coca plant, mostly grown in South America. This is another highly addictive substance that acts on the reward centres of the brain, and can cause a faster heart rate leading to arrhythmia, restlessness, anxiety, and paranoia. These can severely impact safety within in workplace.

Opiates and Opioids

This group of drugs includes both 'natural' (poppy-derived) drugs such as heroin or morphine, and synthetic analogues such as methadone and the commonly-prescribed codeine. Opiates are another group of CNS depressants, and can be used clinically as an analgesic - a painkiller. Narcotic varieties are consumed to give a euphoric effect. This group of substances is highly addictive, and frequently abused, causing significant dependence issues, along with physical harm. At work, this could mean poor decision-making, inability to manage risk, and very poor reaction times, greatly impacting site safety.

If you would like to discuss tailoring an effective drug and alcohol program to meet your organisation's needs, contact Medvet today.

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