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The Rise of a New Drug(s) of Choice

(Winter 2018) Employers, beware and keep your drug-free workplace program operations broad-focused and vigilant. As the headlines, government and community efforts have sharply focused on the devastation of opiates, semi-synthetics, heroin and fentanyl (the opioid epidemic), there are other workplace culprits quietly taking a solid hold.

Cocaine and methamphetamine are the second and third highest-ranking drugs of abuse (marijuana is the first) and each have multiple-year records of escalation. According to Quest Diagnostics, the leading provider of diagnostic testing services conducting approximately 10 million workplace drug tests a year, these two substances have gained major ground as the preferred drugs of choice showing up in workplace drug tests.

Quest documented that in 2016 cocaine positive tests went to a seven-year high up 12% from 2015 levels. And in 2017 to 2018 they report an additional 7% increase. Methamphetamine (meth) increased 167% between 2013 and 2017. What is going on?! How is this happening under our noses and why aren’t we talking about it?

Most of us haven’t noticed meth and cocaine because the damage around the opioid problem is so lethal and the noise so loud. The death toll for 2017 due to cocaine was 14,556 and for methamphetamine, 10,721. Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention project the toll in 2017 alone for opioid-related deaths to be 60,322. And, opioid abuse knows no socioeconomic boundaries – virtually everyone has been touched by the opioid crisis.

However, in the workplace, Quest shared that over the last five years we’ve seen a decline in the rate of positive drug tests for opiates, semi-synthetic opiates and heroin. Although the counts of those dead and those needing treatment are still astronomical, the workplace has apparently realized benefits from the massive efforts to contain and control opioid abuse including laws to limit prescriptions, crackdown on opioids being illegally diverted and trafficked, educate the public and much, much more.

Another phenomenon that substance misuse professionals talk about is the cyclical swing a culture often demonstrates as it migrates to the “next popular drug of abuse.” For example, in this case, moving from opioids which are painkillers creating relaxation and feelings of euphoria to drugs which make the user feel more alert and stimulated such as cocaine and meth. This may, in part, explain this swing from opioids to stimulants.

With the prevalence of these drugs on the rise, it’s time for employers to take stock. There are safety risks to the workplace during and after use of these two drugs. The behavior of people who use meth include carelessness, unreliability, involvement in numerous accidents which result in damage to equipment or property or injury to themselves or others, inability to focus on the details of routine duties or follow directions, argumentative, and taking risks with disregard to safety – all of which can last around 6-8 hours. Workplace safety can also be compromised for much longer because the immediate after effects of meth use include drowsiness and sleep deprivation.

Users of cocaine can manifest poor or impulsive decision making; frequent mood swings; unusual excitement or euphoria; leaving office frequently to use the bathroom or take phone calls; talking endlessly, often about seemingly unrelated subjects; aggressiveness and paranoia.

Whether these drugs are smoked, snorted or injected, they each create a strong craving for their euphoric effects. Because both act directly on the central nervous system, withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Medical researchers are feverishly working on “cures” for meth or cocaine addiction, but they have not developed a medication or vehicle that helps manage addiction as methadone does for heroin addicts or suboxone does for substance use disorder of opioids.

Throughout the years there have been other efforts to control the damage caused by these two drugs. For example, the government has enacted restrictions to pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in the production of meth. And law enforcement and international treaties have worked to limit the importation of cocaine. But there are always avenues around such efforts. In fact, one contributing factor for meth coming back with such force is that Mexican cartels are obtaining pseudoephedrine in mass quantities from overseas suppliers then “cooking” it to create more potent meth than our country has previously experienced.

Bottom line? There will always be a favorite drug-of-the-day trying to wreak havoc on our workforces and workplaces. Once again, the mantra of Working Partners®, “There is a single, antidote that workplaces can use to defend against any of these popular drugs and any that are coming down the pike with the next wave – operate a comprehensive, drug-free workplace program.” This practice will limit your exposure and manage your risk of these ever-pervasive corporate raiders.

Be sure to reach out if you would like to know more about how to protect your workforces and workplace against any of the preferred drugs-of-the-day!

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DISCLAIMER: This publication is designed to provide accurate information regarding the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that those involved in the publication are not engaged in rendering legal counsel. If legal advice is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.