Thursday, September 29, 2016

Medical Marijuana and its IMPACT on OHIO's BWC

The impact of the new law, House Bill 523, effective September 8, 2016, legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio for certain medical conditions, is limited in regard to the Ohio BWC. It does not adversely affect the Drug-Free Safety Program, will not require BWC to pay for patient access to marijuana, and expressly states that an employee under the influence of marijuana is not covered by workers' compensation. Specifically: * Nothing in the law requires an employer to accommodate an employee's use of medical marijuana; * the law does NOT prohibit an employer from refusing to hire, discharging, or taking an adverse employment action because of a person's use of medical marijuana; * the law specifies that marijuana is covered under "rebuttable presumption." In general, this means that an employee whose injury was the result of being intoxicated or under the influence of marijuana is not eligible for workers' compensation. This is the case regardless of whether the marijuana use is recommended by a physician; * While the law does not specifically address reimbursement for medical marijuana recommended for injured workers, Ohio law already has rules and statutes in place that limit what medications are reimbursable by BWC. Administrative code provides that drugs covered by BWC are limited to those that are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Marijuana has not been approved by the FDA and remains a Schedule I illegal drug under federal law. BWC funded prescriptions must be dispensed by a registered pharmacist from an enrolled provider. Medical marijuana will be dispensed from retail marijuana dispensaries, not from enrolled pharmacies. What can employers do? The best way employers can protect their workers and themselves is to establish a drug-free work place, or if they already have one, to review and update it if necessary. This is important because certain sections of the new law reference the use of medical marijuana in violation of an employer's drug-free workplace policy, zero-tolerance policy or other formal program or policy regulating the use of medical marijuana. For what this means to your specific workplace, consult your human resources or legal department

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Doctors Feel Ill-Equipped to Counsel Patients About Medical Uses of Marijuana

Many doctors feel ill-equipped to counsel their patients about the potential medical uses of marijuana, USA Today reports. Some states are establishing physician training programs to address marijuana’s health effects. Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. Some states are starting to require doctors to take continuing medical education classes that discuss how marijuana interacts with other medications and affects the nervous system. In most states that allow medical marijuana, patients with qualifying medical conditions must receive certification from a doctor. Many doctors say that without knowing the health effects of marijuana, they are uncomfortable writing a certification. Many also say they are uneasy about dealing with medical marijuana because the drug remains illegal under federal law.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 31st International Overdose Awareness Day

International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is a global event held on August 31st each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. Overdose Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable. Wear Silver to show your support. http://www.overdoseday.com/

Thursday, July 14, 2016

33 Hospitalized After Calls About Mass K2 Overdose in Brooklyn: NYPD

Thirty-three people were taken to the hospital Tuesday morning after authorities responded to calls of people overdosing on K2 near a Brooklyn intersection that has been called one of the worst spots in New York City for synthetic drug use. Authorities said that it wasn't clear what drug the people who were transported to hospitals had ingested, but the NYPD said that at least five were reportedly smoking the cheap synthetic cannabinoid commonly called K2 outside a building on Stockton Street. The woman who called 911 to report the men smoking told NBC 4 New York they were vomiting and urinating. Witnesses told DNAinfo that the victims collapsed on the sidewalk and subway platforms. Since 2015, there have been more than 6,000 K2-related emergency room visits in New York City, according to the city's health department. There have been two confirmed deaths associated with the drug. Source: 33 Hospitalized After Calls About Mass K2 Overdose in Brooklyn: NYPD | NBC New York http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/K2-Mass-Overdoses-Brooklyn-Bedford-Stuyvesant-NYC-386499841.html#ixzz4EOm5ia00 Follow us: @nbcnewyork on Twitter | NBCNewYork on Facebook

Monday, June 20, 2016

Random Drug Testing Benefits Employers

Drug testing programs aim to prevent the hiring of drug-using applicants while deterring drug use among current employees. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 21.4 percent of employed adults used illicit drugs within the past month. Results from the 2014 Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ (DTI) show that, in the general U.S. workforce, random urine drug test positivity rates are higher (5.7 percent) than they are for pre-employment (4.0 percent) or periodic (1.6 percent). Random or “spot” drug testing works as a drug use deterrent because these programs are conducted in an unannounced and unpredictable manner. Utilizing a random drug testing program may help employers by: Deterring current employees from engaging in drug use Preventing the need for substance abuse recovery programs Helping reduce health insurance costs Improving attendance and employee productivity Providing a safer workplace with reduced accidents However, setting up a random drug testing program isn’t as simple as drawing names from a hat. The key to running a successful random testing program lies in the employee selection methodology. Employers should adopt reliable, repeatable processes to ensure accuracy and fairness for their program’s selection process. When administered properly, the operative word ‘random’ will hold true and individuals in the program will not know if and when their drug test will occur. This element of chance and risk acts as the drug use deterrent. For more information on random program administration call Mobile Medical Corporation 888-662-8358.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Employers Struggle to Find Potential Employees Who Can Pass Drug Test

Employers report they are having difficulty finding workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test, The New York Times reports. Drug testing is becoming increasingly common at companies of all sizes. In some industries, such as trucking, drug testing is mandated by federal law for safety reasons. The trend reflects an increase in the use of marijuana, as well as heroin and other opioid drugs, the article notes. In June 2015, Quest Diagnostics found the percentage of American workers testing positive for illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine increased for the second consecutive year in the general U.S. workforce. The positivity rate for approximately 6.6 million urine drug tests increased to 4.7 percent in 2014, compared with 4.3 percent the previous year. Dr. Barry Sample, Quest’s Director of Science and Technology, said the problem used to be worse. “If we go back to 1988, the combined U.S. work force positivity was 13.6 percent when drug testing was new,” he said. Sample added he considers two consecutive years of increases to be worrisome. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2014, one in 10 Americans ages 12 and older said they had used illicit drugs in the past month—the highest percentage since 2001. According to John Sambdman, who employs about 100 people in Atlanta at Samson Trailways, many potential employees “just don’t bother to show up at the drug-testing place.” Last August, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said he would develop a program to help because so many business owners complain “the No. 1 reason they can’t hire enough workers is they can’t find enough people to pass a drug test,” he said. The program is still being discussed.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Most States Do Not Require Employers to Accommodate Use of Medicinal Marijuana

May 18th, 2016/ As of May 2016, 25 states plus the District of Columbia allow the medicinal use of marijuana by patients suffering from certain debilitating medical conditions.[1] With perhaps 70-80 percent of marijuana patients between the ages of 18 and 60,[2] there may be upwards of one million users in the workforce at this time.[3] As recently enacted state laws come online and new states join, workforce numbers are expected to increase. Employers across the country, therefore, face the emerging issue of how they are allowed to manage the medicinal use of marijuana by their employees. One increasingly common question employers face is whether they can fire an employee, or rescind a prospective employee’s job offer, for failing a drug test caused by ingestion of marijuana away from work premises, or must they refrain from acting on the test and thereby accommodate the use? In most states, statutory language and court decisions do not require employers to accommodate. However, seven states impose more restrictions on employers, and at least four other states are considering changes to make their laws more employee-friendly. Termination for Off-Site Marijuana Use Statutes in 13 states expressly provide that employers are not required to accommodate the medicinal use or ingestion of marijuana at the workplace or during work hours.[4] In five of these states—California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Washington— which happen to contain two-thirds of all estimated marijuana patients, state supreme courts have held that employers may fire lawfully registered patient employees for failing drug tests caused by the off-site medicinal use of marijuana, albeit for somewhat differing reasons.[5] In six jurisdictions, state statutes do not address explicitly employer accommodation of the medicinal use of marijuana.[6] Nevertheless, in one of those states, New Mexico, a federal court recently held that absent such language in the law, the court would not require employers to do so for “a drug that is still illegal under federal law.”[7] States That May Be More Employee-Friendly on Marijuana Issue The statutory language in the remaining seven states is, or at least appears, more employee-friendly. In Connecticut, the law does not address accommodation, but does provide that an employer may not “refuse to hire a person or . . . discharge, penalize or threaten an employee solely on the basis of such person’s status as a patient.”[8] In Illinois, although the law allows an employer to adopt reasonable regulation regarding use and enforce non-discriminatory drug testing and drug-free workplace policies, the provision that the law does not prevent an employer from disciplining employees for failed drug tests appears to apply only in cases of federal employees or federal contractors.[9] The most employee-friendly state laws are in Arizona, Delaware, Minnesota, Nevada and New York. In Arizona, Delaware and Minnesota, an employer cannot discriminate against, or terminate, an employee who is a registered patient (other than a federal employee or federal contractor) because of a failed drug test unless the employee used, or was impaired, at work.[10] In Nevada, except for law enforcement agencies, employers must “attempt to make reasonable accommodations for the medical needs of an employee who engages in the medical use of marijuana if the employee holds a valid registry identification card,” provided that the accommodation poses no threat of harm to others, imposes no undue hardship on the employer and does not prevent the employee from fulfilling job duties.[11] Additionally, in New York, qualifying as a patient is sufficient to have a “disability” under New York human rights, civil rights and criminal procedure law,[12] thus requiring employer accommodation for use. Changing Landscape for Employers It should be noted that just because a state falls within a certain category now, the law can be changed. During the 2016 state legislative session, there have been bills pending in four states – Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey and Rhode Island—that would require more employer accommodation of registered marijuana users. BY JON WOODRUFF, Legislative Attorney for the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws [1] Pennsylvania becomes the 25th state once 2016 Pa. Act 2016-16 (2015 Pennsylvania Senate Bill 3) takes effect on or about May 17, 2016. [2] The percentage range is based on state-reported statistics in three states with mandatory registries containing more than 75,000 patients each (Arizona, Colorado and Oregon). [3] Estimates of the number of patients is imprecise, largely because neither California nor Washington have a mandatory patient registry. One organization estimates the current number of patients to be around 1.5 million. See https://www.mpp.org/issues/medical-marijuana/state-by-state-medical-marijuana-laws/medical-marijuana-patient-numbers/. [4] The states are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington. [5] Ross v. RagingWire Telecommunications, Inc., 42 Cal.4th 920, 174 P.3d 200 (2008) (fired employee had no cause of action for termination in violation of California public policy); Coats v. Dish Network, LLC, 350 P.3d 849 (Colo. 2015) (employee’s use of marijuana, which was “lawful” under Colorado but not federal law, was not a “lawful” activity for which an employer could not terminate); Johnson v. Columbia Falls Aluminum Co., 350 Mont. 562, 213 P.3d 789 (2009) (table decision) (employee’s claim that termination violated his civil rights failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted); Emerald Steel Fabricators, Inc. v. Bureau of Labor and Industries, 348 Or. 159, 230 P.3d 518 (2010) (en banc) (employee’s use constituted the illegal use of drugs under federal law, was thus he was entitled to accommodation); Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Management (Colorado), LLC, 171 Wash.2d 736, 257 P.3d 586 (2011) (en banc) (state’s medicinal use law does not regulate the conduct of a private employer or protect an employee from being discharged because of authorized use). [6] These jurisdictions are: District of Columbia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico and Vermont. [7] Garcia v. Tractor Supply Co., — F.Supp.3d —-, 2016 WL 93717 (D.N.M. 2016). [8] C.G.S.A. § 21a-408p(b)(3). [9] 410 ILCS 130/50(d). [10] A.R.S. § 36-2813(B); 16 Del.C. § 4905A(a)(3); M.S.A. § 152.32(3)(c). [11] N.R.S. 453A.800(3). [12] N.Y. Public Health Law § 3369(2).

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Opioid Abuse Could Be Costing Employers as Much as $8 Billion Annually

Opioid abuse could be costing U.S. employers up to $8 billion annually, according to a report by the benefits firm Castlight Health. Employees who abuse opioids cost employers almost twice as much in healthcare expenses on average, compared with workers who don’t abuse opioids, the report found. The average healthcare cost for employees who abuse opioids is $19,450, compared with $10,853 for employees who do not abuse opioids. Castlight recommends employers, especially those with large and diverse workforces, analyze where lower back pain and depression—two conditions closely associated with opioid abuse—are most prevalent in their company. The company notes that employers may want to guide some employees away from unnecessary back surgery, which comes with opioid prescriptions. The report notes that “targeted educational content could help inform employees suffering from lower back pain that an opioid may not be the wisest option for them, or that physical therapy benefits are available.” Companies should also guide employees to benefit programs to make better health decisions related to opioid use, the report recommends. Castlight says employers may want to consider offering programs that provide access to opioid abuse treatment. “With this guidance, employers can help their employees easily find and access their health benefits, and avoid care choices that could require opioid use and lead to potentially abusive behavior,” according to the report, “The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce.” The findings are based on data covering almost one million workers who used Castlight’s benefit platform between 2011 and 2015. According to CNBC, the report found that almost one-third of opioid painkiller prescriptions funded by employer plans are being abused. Castlight found 4.5 percent of workers who have received an opioid prescription have demonstrated a pattern of drug abuse. Among baby boomers, the rate was almost 7.5 percent.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

DEA: Deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin surging

A surge in overdose deaths around the country from heroin laced with the powerful narcotic drug fentanyl prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue a nationwide alert and the overdoses continue to rise. "Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate," DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said. She called it a "significant threat to public health and safety." Fentanyl, a narcotic often used to ease extreme pain for patients in the final stages of diseases such as bone cancer, can be up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It is the most potent opioid available for medical use. Doctors prescribe fentanyl in micrograms rather than larger milligrams. Law enforcement seizures of illegal drugs containing fentanyl more than tripled between 2013 and 2014. The National Forensic Laboratory Information System, which collects data from state and local police labs, reported 3,344 fentanyl submissions in 2014, up from 942 in 2013. DEA has also warned law enforcement to handle such seizures carefully because fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin or accidentally inhaled. In New Jersey, state police have noted three spikes in fentanyl-related incidents since December 2013. The next summer, police responded to 58 incidents, including seven fatal overdoses in two coastal counties, says Lt. Juan Colon, assistant bureau chief of the information and intelligence support bureau at the regional operations intelligence center for the New Jersey State Police. The most recent spate occurred from Jan. 23 to Feb. 10 in Atlantic County, Colon said. In one 12-hour period, police responded to six overdoses, he said. "These drugs, opioids and opiates, are killing people, especially when you're buying them off the street. You don't know what you're getting," Colon said. "If you do drugs, you're taking a gamble." Prosecutors in New York last week charged two men with dealing heroin laced with fentanyl after one of their alleged customers in Hamburg, N.Y., overdosed and died on Feb. 28. Police found text messages from the alleged dealer, John Haak, 33, of Evans, N.Y., warning his customer to be careful with the heroin because of the fentanyl, court papers say. In October, a grand jury in Massachusetts indicted three men from the state's North Shore for dealing heroin and fentanyl. The charges stemmed from an investigation following a rash of heroin and fentanyl overdose deaths in Salem a few months earlier. Police reported several major fentanyl seizures in 2014, including a 26-pound seizure in California that was traced to a Mexican drug cartel. Fentanyl-laced heroin caused an epidemic of overdoses between 2005 and 2007, when more than 1,000 people in Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia died. The DEA traced the fentanyl to a single lab in Mexico, which was shut down.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Law Enforcement Sees More High-Potency Marijuana, Called “Shatter”

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Houston are seeing an increasing amount of a type of high-potency marijuana known as “shatter.” Some forms of shatter have as much as 90 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. That is about five times the potency of unrefined smoked marijuana. It is more powerful than standard hash oil. Shatter is a thin, hard layer that is similar to glass. It can shatter if dropped. The drug, also called wax or 710, is a concentrated form of marijuana oil. “If you’re looking at something that has three, five, seven, or nine percent THC content, that’s a drastic difference to somebody that is consuming something with 80 or 90 percent THC content,” said Wendell Campbell, DEA special agent. Houston DEA agents report an increase in marijuana concentrate seizures in the past year, the article notes. The concentrates are often hidden in beauty product containers. The Drug Enforcement Administration, in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment, said that marijuana concentrates are growing in popularity and that the drug’s ease of use through portable vaporizers presented new challenges to law enforcement. “Marijuana concentrates are extracted from leafy marijuana in many ways, but the most frequently used, and potentially most dangerous, method is butane extraction,” the DEA stated. “The butane extraction method uses highly flammable butane gas and has resulted in numerous explosions and injuries, particularly on the West Coast, where production is most common.” In December, The Washington Post reported shatter is appearing on the East Coast. The product is legal for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, and is sold in medical marijuana dispensaries in other states, the newspaper notes. It is faster-acting and much more easily hidden than marijuana.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Prescription Drugs in the Workplace

It's a national epidemic. Prescription drugs kill more people in the United States - about 47,000 people every year - than motor vehicle crashes. Opioid painkillers are the biggest culprit, killing 52 people every day, but antidepressants, sleeping pills and other drugs also are being misused at an alarming rate. You'd think such a widespread problem would be front-page news, but surprisingly, many people don't know about it, doctors continue to over-prescribe and the death rate continues to rise. Employers have a huge role in helping end these unnecessary deaths. Did you know employer-supported treatment yields better recovery rates than treatment initiated by friends and family members? Does that sound like a lot of responsibility for you as an employer? It is. Case Study: Indiana Eighty percent of Indiana employers have been impacted by prescription drug abuse in their workplaces, according to a survey conducted by the Indiana Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force. Two-thirds of employers believe prescription drugs are a bigger problem than illegal drugs, and drug poisonings have increased fivefold in Indiana since 1999. Interestingly, though 80% of employers have experienced this problem, only 53% have a written policy on prescription drugs. And of those who do drug testing, only 52% test for commonly abused opioids. While this survey specifically focused on Indiana employers, the results reflect national trends, according to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics. In fact, most deaths from prescription drug overdose are working-age adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to safety concerns, there is a very real cost attached to drug misuse and abuse in the workplace: • Absenteeism • High turnover • Injury and accidents • Workers compensation costs • Healthcare costs • Theft Expanded Drug Testing and Policy Employer-initiated treatment does work. Employers in Indiana said they want to help their employees recover and come back to work; they're seeing addiction as an illness and not a personal failure, according to the survey. In addition to expanding drug testing panels to include opioids, training employees is key. • Form a team of both internal employees and external experts - doctors, law enforcement, wellness vendors, even a coroner who can speak to the death rates related to prescription drug overdose • Identify resources; how much money is in the budget for training? • Develop policies and procedures on drug testing, disciplinary action, education and training, and remember that doctors who treat your employees won't know your company policy • If an employee doesn't tell you they are taking prescription drugs, you won't know unless an accident occurs; engage employees so they will step up and identify concerning behavior • Maintain or develop a relationship with local law enforcement • Treat substance abuse as a disease • When an employee does return to the workforce, reintegration should involve continued treatment, random drug screening and limited stress in the workplace For more information on Drug Free Workplace Training or examples of drug panels that include expanded opiates contact Mobile Medical Corporation 888-662-8358 ext. 201.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sedative-Related Overdoses on the Rise

Fatal overdoses from benzodiazepines—sedatives sold under brand names such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan—are on the rise, a new study finds. Overdoses from benzodiazepines accounted for 31 percent of the almost 23,000 deaths from prescription drug overdoses in the United States in 2013, according to HealthDay. “As more benzodiazepines were prescribed, more people have died from overdoses involving these drugs,” said study author Dr. Joanna Starrels of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “In 2013, more than 5 percent of American adults filled prescriptions for benzodiazepines. And the overdose death rate increased more than four times from 1996 to 2013.” She noted while there has been a large public health response to the epidemic of prescription opioid use, addiction and overdose, there has not been much response to the increase in prescription benzodiazepine deaths. Dr. Starrels said the rate of deaths from benzodiazepines is still lower than deaths from opioid overdoses, but noted benzodiazepine deaths also involve opioids in about 75 percent of cases. She said benzodiazepines can slow breathing, “particularly when taken with alcohol or narcotics such as OxyContin or heroin.” Starrels and colleagues used data that tracks drug prescriptions and drug overdoses. They found the number of adults who used benzodiazepines rose from 8.1 million prescriptions in 1996, to 13.5 million in 2013—a 67 percent increase. The quantity of filled prescriptions more than doubled during that period. The overdose death rate for benzodiazepines rose from 0.58 deaths per 100,000 in 1996 to more than 3 deaths per 100,000 in 2013—a more than fivefold increase. While the overall number of overdose deaths has leveled off since 2010, the rate continues to increase among adults over 65, as well as among blacks and Hispanics. The study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

President Obama Asks for More Than $1 Billion in New Funding for Opioid Addiction Treatment

President Obama is asking for more than $1 billion in new funding to address the opioid epidemic, USA Today reports. The funding would expand access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use. Under the proposal, the new funds would be used to help people with an opioid use disorder to seek and successfully complete treatment and sustain recovery. It would expand access to substance use treatment providers and to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. The funds will be included in the fiscal year 2017 budget request, the article notes. They include $920 million to support agreements with states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. States can use these funds to expand treatment and lower the cost of services. Fifty million dollars would be used to expand access to 700 substance use treatment providers in areas that need mental health treatment the most, while $30 million would be used to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment programs using medication-assisted treatment. Those funds would also help identify opportunities to improve treatment for patients with opioid use disorders. The proposal also includes about $500 million to build on current efforts by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to expand state-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies. These funds would increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs, improve access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, and support targeted enforcement activities. In a statement, the White House said the proposal “will not only expand access to help people start treatment, but help them successfully complete it and sustain their recovery. It will increase education, prevention, drug monitoring programs, and law enforcement efforts to keep illegal drugs out of our communities.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

Employers in states with legalized marijuana use have ‘limited tolerance,’ survey shows

Workers in states that have legalized marijuana should think twice before smoking the drug. A new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management indicates many employers have continued a zero-tolerance policy. More than 4 out of 5 organizations with operations in states where recreational and medical marijuana use is legal bar workers from using the drug, survey respondents reported. Eleven percent of employers had exceptions for medical use. Two-fifths of respondents said their organization can subject employees to marijuana drug testing after an incident occurs, and one-quarter reported that all employees are subject to marijuana drug testing throughout employment – regardless of whether an incident occurred. About half of respondents said first-time violators of substance policies were terminated. “While marijuana use is legal in some states, it remains illegal under federal law,” Evren Esen, SHRM director of survey programs, said in a press release. “Substance use, disciplinary and hiring policies are all influenced by employers’ limited tolerance of marijuana use.” Marijuana is legal in 19 states for medical use only, and in four states and the District of Columbia for medical and recreational use. The drug can lead to impaired body movement and difficulty with problem-solving in the short-term, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states. Although the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the marijuana plant as medicine, it has approved medications containing synthetic marijuana chemicals. Additionally, research has indicated marijuana is effective in relieving symptoms of several diseases, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Blood-lead levels in working adults have dropped, NIOSH report shows

The prevalence of employed adults with high levels of lead in their blood has fallen since the mid-1990s, according to a new NIOSH report. NIOSH and 41 state health departments collected blood-lead level data on working adults from 1994 to 2012. The rate of adults with blood-lead levels equal to or greater than 25 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood dropped to 5.7 employed adults per 100,000 in 2012 from 14 in 1994. Among adults with levels at or greater than 10 µg/dL, the rate fell to 22.5 in 2012 from 26.6 in 2010. Most lead exposures are occupational in nature, according to the report. Between 2002 and 2012, occupational exposure accounted for nearly 95 percent of the annual proportion of blood-lead levels at or greater than 25 µg/dL in participating states. OSHA’s standards for lead set a permissible exposure limit at no greater than 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over an 8-hour period. No safe blood-lead level has been identified, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The results were published Oct. 23, 2015, in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sobering Statistics On Holiday Drinking And Driving

This year, 1,200 people will lose their lives during the holiday season as a result of alcohol-related traffic accidents. The United States Department of Transportation reported that from 2001 to 2005, an average of 45 people died each day during the holiday season, with the largest number of drunk driving fatalities occurring during Thanksgiving. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), deaths from drinking and driving spike around the holidays, with alcohol being blamed for about 52 percent of fatal collisions on Christmas and 57 percent on New Years compared to a rate of 41 percent for the entire year. In addition to the more than 1,200 alcohol-related deaths that will occur on the road this holiday season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 25,000 people will be injured. Some Good News And Some Bad News The good news is that there has been a steady decline in the rate of alcohol-related deaths on the nation's highways during the holidays. Statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that in 1982, there were more than 2,600 deaths due to drinking and driving -- accounting for 60 percent of all accident fatalities. Recent years, however, have witnessed about 1,200 fatalities, or roughly 40 percent. The discouraging news, however, is that underage drinkers are responsible for between 10 and 20 percent of all alcohol consumed and that, during the holiday period, 21- to 24-year-olds repeatedly make up the highest percentage of impaired drivers. Another negative trend is that arrests for women driving under the influence increased by 29 percent from 1998 to 2007, while DWI arrests for men fell by eight percent. However, the number of men arrested during that period was still four times that of women. Take Steps To Protect Yourself And Others Even with the steady decline in fatalities, the number of drivers with DWI arrests is on the rise. It is estimated that there are as many as two million drunk drivers with three or more convictions and more than 400,000 with five or more DWI convictions still behind the wheel. Here are five steps you can take to help avoid becoming a statistic: 1. If you drink, don't drive no matter how little you think you've had. 2. Don't let someone you know get behind the wheel if they've been drinking. 3. Avoid driving during early and late evening hours on holidays. 4. If you must drive, be cautious and watch for the erratic movements of drunken drivers. 5. Immediately report suspected drunk drivers to the police.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Adults in Their 50s Now Biggest Group Being Treated for Opioid Addiction: Study

Adults ages 50 and older are the largest group seeking treatment for addiction to opioid painkillers and heroin in New York City, according to a new study. People ages 50 to 59 accounted for almost 36 percent of opioid treatment patients in 2012. In 1996, this age group accounted for only 8 percent of narcotic painkiller and heroin treatment patients, HealthDay reports. The study found a “pronounced age trend in those utilizing opioid treatment programs from 1996 to 2012, with adults aged 50 and older becoming the majority treatment population,” lead researcher Dr. Benjamin Han of New York University said in a news release. Patients ages 60 to 69 rose from 1.5 percent to 12 percent between 1996 and 2012, the researchers report in the Journal of Substance Use and Misuse. “These increases are especially striking, considering there was about a 7.6 percent decrease in the total patient population over that period of time, and suggests that we are facing a never before seen epidemic of older adults with substance use disorders and increasing numbers of older adults in substance abuse treatment,” Han said. While 56 percent of opioid addiction patients were 40 and younger in 1996, only 20 percent of patients fell into this age group in 2012. Among patients ages 60 and older, the researchers found a 10 percent increase in whites, a 4 percent increase in Hispanics, and a 14 percent decrease in blacks. Among patients in their 50s, the rate rose 9 percent for Hispanics, 6 percent for blacks and 3.5 percent for whites. The researchers said they believe the increase in older adults being treated in opioid addiction programs is likely to continue into the next decade. “Opioid dependence is a chronic condition that often needs life-long treatment, and therefore many individuals who are currently in treatment will remain in treatment as they age,” they wrote. /BY JOIN TOGETHER STAFF December 1st, 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dark Web Marketplace Increases Availability, Acceptability of Drugs: Expert

November 4th, 2015 The popularity of the “Dark Web” for purchasing illegal drugs is especially worrisome because it is increasing the availability and acceptability of drugs, according to an addiction psychiatry expert. “After talking with people who use the Dark Web, I became very concerned that many of them have lost the appreciation that this is drug dealing, not just e-commerce,” says Karen Miotto, MD, Director of UCLA’s Addiction Psychiatry Service, who has studied the Dark Web, also known as the Deep Web or the Hidden Web. “Buying or selling heroin balloons in the park is clearly understood as an illegal activity; buying or selling drugs online may be construed as e-commerce without full appreciation that it is also illegal.” The Dark Web refers to illegal online marketplaces that can be accessed by downloading the anonymous browser called Tor, and purchasing the digital currently bitcoin. In addition to illegal drugs, these websites sell passports, pornography and weapons. The first and most well-known Dark Web site was Silk Road, which was shut down by the federal government in 2013. The ease with which people can buy large quantities of drugs is creating a system with mid-level drug dealers, said Dr. Miotto, who discussed the Dark Web at the recent California Society of Addiction Medicine annual meeting. She found people who use the Dark Web by asking students and colleagues for contacts, as well as through the website Reddit. “We have a new drug distribution system,” Dr. Miotto said. “People can get drugs sent to them in a FedEx box right to their door with a sense of anonymity and confidentiality. There’s a sense of intrigue and excitement about getting drugs this way.” Earlier this year, a study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers found illegal websites have sales that average $300,000 to $500,000 a day. The study found marijuana accounted for about one-quarter of sales, followed by Ecstasy and stimulants. These websites also sell significant amounts of psychedelic drugs, opioids and other prescription medications. Dr. Miotto found that hallucinogenic compounds advertised as research chemicals are popular on Dark Web sites. “Some people believe they are performing a service by experimenting with these drugs and going online and writing about their experience,” she said. When Silk Road was seized in October 2013, it had 13,000 drug listings. In June, the creator of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life in prison. The government said over Silk Road’s three years in business, more than 1.5 million transactions were conducted on the site. A number of new Dark Web sites have emerged since Silk Road was seized, including Open Bazaar, Silk Road 3.0 and Angora. “People write in testimonials about the drugs they purchase on these sites, just as you do on Amazon,” Dr. Miotto notes. She said parents’ and physicians’ ignorance of the Dark Web makes it easier for young people to participate in the online drug marketplace. “Young people don’t always appreciate the risk they are taking in engaging in these activities,” she said. Parents can check to see if a Tor browser has been downloaded on their teen’s computer. Check packages that come to the house, and don’t allow your teen to have their own Post Office box. If your teen asks about Bitcoin, find out what he knows about it and why he’s interested in it. “I worry about young people with disposable income and access to credit cards,” Dr. Miotto said. “Some of the most tragic cases I’ve seen are high school kids, or even younger, with a lot of discretionary income.” BY CELIA VIMONT

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

OCTOBER IS NATIONAL SUBSTANCE ABUSE PREVENTION MONTH

October marks the second annual National Substance Abuse Prevention Month an observance to highlight the vital role of substance abuse prevention in both individual and community health and to remember those who have lost their lives to alcohol and drugs. According the recently released 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 20.6 million Americans over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol and drugs; 14.1 million alcohol, 3.9 million illicit drugs, no alcohol and 2.6 million, alcohol and illicit drugs. Plain and simple, underage drinking, alcohol and drug dependence, non-medical use of prescription drugs, abuse of over-the-counter medications, and illicit drug use take a devastating toll on our families and in our communities. For example, young Americans aged 12 to 20 account for 11% of the country's monthly alcohol consumption; and, approximately 23 million people aged 12 or older used illicit drugs in 2010. This abuse touches all aspects of our communities and contributes to an estimated $416 billion in crime, health care and lost productivity costs. This month let’s pay tribute to all those working to prevent substance use in our communities and rededicate ourselves to building a safer, drug-free America. For more information on Alcoholism and Drug dependence visit the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence web-site @ www.ncadd.org.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

CDC Announces $20 Million Program to Reduce Opioid Overdoses

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will spend $20 million in 16 states to reduce opioid overdoses, UPI reports. Opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. In 2013, more than 16,000 people died of prescription opioid overdoses in the United States, according to the CDC. In addition,more than 8,000 people died of heroin overdoses that year. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled. “The prescription drug overdose epidemic is tragic and costly, but can be reversed,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a news release. “Because we can protect people from becoming addicted to opioids, we must take fast action now, with real-time tracking programs, safer prescribing practices, and rapid response. Reversing this epidemic will require programs in all 50 states.” The CDC will provide funding to Arizona, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. The program will focus on improving prescription drug monitoring programs and increasing education and prevention efforts in communities. The CDC will work with doctors and health systems to help them make better decisions for patients, and to investigate the connection between prescription opioid abuse and rising heroin use. The CDC will award states between $750,000 and $1 million each year over the next four years. President Obama’s 2016 budget proposal includes a request to expand the program to all states.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Study Finds Places with More Marijuana Dispensaries Have More Marijuana-Related Hospitalizations

People who live in areas of California with a higher density of marijuana dispensaries experience a greater number of hospitalizations involving marijuana abuse and dependence, a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analysis discovered. The National Institutes of Health-funded research, published online in the scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, could be informative as more states consider legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use. It is the first analysis of the statewide impact of marijuana dispensaries on abuse and dependence, as well as the first look at population characteristics associated with marijuana-related hospitalization rates. "As marijuana is approved for medical or recreational use, we need to carefully consider where we allow dispensaries to be placed," said lead author Christina Mair, Ph.D., in a news release. "Our study indicates that there are real problems associated with a higher density of marijuana dispensaries in neighborhoods. More study and monitoring, coupled with thoughtful legislation and community discussion, will be prudent to ensure that marijuana laws have the fewest negative consequences for vulnerable populations." In 1996, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, allowing physicians to prescribe the drug for medical purposes. Since then, 22 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted similar laws, and four of those states also have legalized recreational use. Pennsylvania doesn't allow either, though it is considering permitting medical marijuana. Mair and her team looked at data on California hospital discharges that had either a primary or secondary medical code for marijuana dependence or abuse with at least one overnight hospital stay. The research covered 2001 through 2012, the most recent years for which consistent data were available. Hospitalizations with marijuana abuse or dependence codes increased from 17,469 in 2001 to 68,408 in 2012. More than 85 percent of marijuana-related hospitalizations were coded as abuse, rather than dependence, and 99.2 percent were secondary codes, meaning the person was primarily hospitalized for something other than marijuana. When the research team mapped the location of marijuana dispensaries and cross-referenced it with the ZIP code of each patient's home, they found that each additional dispensary per square mile in a ZIP code was associated with a 6.8 percent increase in the number of hospitalizations linked to marijuana abuse and dependence. In addition, the team found that marijuana dispensaries and hospitalizations were more likely to be located in areas with lower household incomes and lower educational attainment. "It's unclear if the marijuana dispensaries are simply locating in neighborhoods that tend to be more disadvantaged and already have underlying problems with marijuana abuse, or if the presence of the dispensaries is causing an increase in abuse and hospitalizations," Mair said. "It could be a combination of both factors." Mair noted that research on the location of marijuana dispensaries has a parallel precedent in the location of liquor stores. This gives policymakers and public health practitioners the opportunity to learn from previous studies on the health effects of density and location of liquor stores in order to design studies that can provide similar data on marijuana dispensaries.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

More Obituaries Refer to Addiction as Heroin Overdoses Increase

A growing number of obituaries of people who have died of heroin overdoses refer to their addiction, The New York Times reports. In the past, these obituaries tended to say a person died “unexpectedly” or “at home.” More families are writing candidly about their loved ones’ struggle with heroin addiction in newspapers, on Facebook and on obituary websites like Legacy.com and ObitsforLife.com. “This is part of a trend toward a greater degree of acceptance and destigmatization about issues pertaining to mental illness, including addiction,” said Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, Chairman of Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He added, “If a family chooses to do this, they can have a cathartic experience that facilitates the grieving process. When the person was alive, they may have been enabling, and they couldn’t acknowledge it. But this allows them to begin that process of coming to terms with the fallibility of the family member and their own limitations in not having been able to deal with it while the person was alive.” When Wade B. Pickett Sr., 34, died of a heroin overdose, his wife, Tiffany, wrote in his obituary in the The Express-Times in Easton, Pennsylvania, “I am sorry if this obituary offends, hurts or shames some people. I hope that it might help save some people from the incredible heartache we are experiencing.” The family of Daniel Joseph Wolanski, 24, of Avon Lake, Ohio, wrote in his obituary, “Someone you know is battling addiction; if your ‘gut instinct’ says something is wrong, it most likely is.” Increasingly, drug abuse is considered a disease and a public health crisis, instead of a crime and moral failing, the article notes. While addiction obituaries do not seem to be the result of an organized effort, they are part of a movement that calls for better treatment options and changes in the criminal justice system.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pot Breathalyzer To Make Marijuana Legalization Safer

With marijuana becoming legal in more and more states across the U.S., concerns about road safety have taken center stage. As regulations regarding how much alcohol can be safely consumed before driving have been hammered into the public eye for years, many worry that newly legalized pot rules need to be paid the same attention. However, in order for law enforcement agencies to uphold the rules governing marijuana consumption while driving, an easy system to test the amount of cannabis a driver has ingested is necessary. For that reason, many companies are working to come up with a device that can detect marijuana the way that traditional breathalyzers measure a driver's alcohol level. Prototype Cannabix Technologies Inc., a Canadian-based firm, says it is nearing the final stages of developing a ‘pot breathalyzer". The device is still only a prototype, but once it becomes available for widespread use, it could revolutionize the way that police enforce marijuana laws. Will It Be Accurate Enough? While the advent of a pot breathalyzer would be a major step forward for marijuana legalization, experts say it won't be accurate enough to be used on its own at first. The device would detect whether or not a person has THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, in their system, but probably wouldn't be able to tell just how much. More Research Needed So far, there has been no consensus regarding what amount of THC, if any, is safe for drivers. In Washington and Montana, drivers must have less than 5 nanograms/milliliter, though Pennsylvania allows just 1 ng/ml and some other states don't allow any amount of THC at all. By Laura Brooks/ benzinga

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hawaii First State to Raise Legal Tobacco Use Age to 21

Hawaii has become the first state to raise the legal tobacco use age to 21. The law prohibits people under the age of 21 from smoking, buying, or possessing tobacco products. The law specifically includes electronic smoking devices, defined as "any electronic product that can be used to aerosolize and deliver nicotine or other substances to the person inhaling the device, an electronic cigarette, electronic cigar, electronic cigarillo, or electronic pipe, and any cartridge or other component of the device or related product." The law was passed, in part, due to growing concerns about the prevalence of e-cigarette use among youth, noting that 29 percent of 9th and 10th graders in six Hawaii high schools report using these products at least once, and 18 percent report using them regularly, according to the state’s news release. "Partners statewide have come together to support this monumental legislation that once again puts Hawaii at the cutting edge of public health policy and protecting the health of our youth," the state's director of health, Virginia Pressler, said in a statement. Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed Senate Bill 1030 (Act 122) late last month. The law will go into effect Jan. 1. Lawmakers are also pushing to raise the tobacco use age in Washington State and California, where the state Senate passed a bill to raise the age last month, sending the legislation to the Assembly for a vote.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Workers' Drug Use On the Rise

Publication Date 06/02/2015 The share of U.S. workers testing positive for drugs appears to be on the rise, according to data from millions of workplace drug tests administered by one of the nation's largest medical-screening laboratories. Traces of drugs--from marijuana to methamphetamine to prescription opiates--were found in 3.9% of the 9.1 million urine tests conducted for employers by Quest Diagnostics Inc. in 2014, up from 3.7% in 2013. While the numbers might seem small, they reflect the reversal of a longtime trend of declining drug use among workers. Before 2013, positives had dropped nearly every year for 24 years, from 13.6% in 1988 to a low of 3.5% in 2012. Some of the positive results are later discarded if a worker produces a doctor's prescription for a legal drug, but the majority reflect illicit use, driven by increases in marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine positives, said Dr. Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest's diagnostics employer solutions business. The upturn mirrors higher levels of substance use in the broader population, said Dr. Sample. A survey by the Department of Health and Human Services found that in 2013, 9.4% of Americans age 12 or older had used illicit drugs in the month before the survey interview was conducted, up from 9.2% in 2012 and 8.7% in 2011. Experts are unsure why drug usage is rising. Researchers haven't been able to conclusively link drug consumption to economic cycles. A 2013 paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, for example, concluded that "the Great Recession did not generate a clear temporary or permanent pattern in rates of substance abuse." Legalization of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use may explain some of the increase, said Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and a senior partner with management-side law firm Jackson Lewis PC. "We have a greater tolerance--and it's an unfounded tolerance--for illicit drug use," he said. The drug most commonly found in workers' samples is marijuana, which accounts for nearly half of all positive tests. Other common substances were amphetamines, oxycodones such as OxyContin, and benzodiazepines like Xanax. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, when voters approved initiatives allowing recreational use of the drug. Since then, employers have been managing a fast-moving and extremely uncertain legal landscape with drug-testing, said Jim Reidy, an attorney in the Manchester, NH office of law firm Sheehan Phinney Bass and Green PA. He has seen employers in Colorado and Washington adopt or expand testing policies, partly with the rationale that screening people out before they are hired puts firms in a less vulnerable position than firing marijuana users down the road--and possibly facing legal challenges based on the state laws. Quest's Dr. Sample noted that while test positives increased sharply in 2013 in Colorado and Washington relative to the rest of the country, in 2014 they were almost exactly in line with the national data. Use in those states may simply have "leveled off," he said. Workers in federally mandated safety-sensitive roles, such as truck drivers and pilots, are barred by federal law from using marijuana, even if it is legal where they live. Among those workers, who must undergo regular testing, Quest found that 1.7% of urine drug tests came back positive, flat with 2013. Dan Horvath, director of compliance at TransForce, Inc., a national staffing firm for truck drivers, said the company communicates regularly with drivers through safety meetings and mailers, reminding them that federal laws forbid them from smoking pot, even if their local governments allow it. "It's a lot more education material to drivers so they can't say they were not aware of testing rules." The overall Quest data reflect growing rates of some prescription drug use--and abuse. For example, even as use of many drugs has ebbed in recent years, positive tests for amphetamines, which includes prescription drugs such as Adderall, essentially doubled between 2008 and 2014. When tests show the presence of a prescription drug, the results are discarded if the individual can verify he or she was prescribed the medication by a doctor, said Dr. Sample, who added that independent studies show 65% to 80% of positive tests for legal drugs are ultimately disregarded for that reason. Employers are responding to the threat by screening for more prescription drugs. International Paper Co., a Memphis-based maker of paper and packaging, plans to add opiate derivatives like hydrocodone and oxycodone to its list. "It's preventative," said Kevin Mencke, chief counsel for employment and labor. "We're in manufacturing, so any drug abuse is a concern for us." At one location, the company experimented with using hair tests, which examine strands of hair and can detect drug use as far back as 90 days, compared with a few days or weeks for urine tests. International Paper's screening procedures found drug traces in about 1.4% of job candidates and 2% of employees tested randomly in 2014. Most employment-related drug tests are administered to job candidates, usually after an offer has been extended but before employment begins. More than half of all U.S. employers required tests for all post-offer job candidates in 2011, according to the most recent data available from the Society for Human Resource Management. In nearly all cases, employers decline to hire candidates with a verified positive result, said Mr. Reidy. Source: Dow Jones News Service By Lauren Weber

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Marijuana Edibles Being Transported Illegally Across State Lines

Law enforcement officials are reporting an increase in marijuana-infused edible products being transported illegally across state lines for resale. Edibles resemble candy or home-baked products, and often have no smell that indicates they contain marijuana, The New York Times reports. Missouri troopers confiscated 400 pounds of commercially made marijuana chocolate in February. New Jersey state police seized 80 pounds of homemade marijuana sweets. Oklahoma officers seized about 40 pounds of commercial marijuana products, including taffy-like “Cheeba Chews” and bottles of marijuana-infused lemonade. In Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal for adults 21 and over, edible marijuana products have become a popular alternative to smoking marijuana. Adults 21 and over can legally purchase marijuana edibles at state-licensed stores. Marijuana is now available in products ranging from candy to soda and granola. The amount of marijuana in edible products varies widely. In some cases, products contain levels so high that people experience extreme paranoia and anxiety. The high produced by edible products comes on more slowly than smoked marijuana. Inexperienced users may consume too much, causing severe impairment. Some experts are concerned that marijuana edibles smuggled into other states may appeal to teens. Colorado health officials are trying to find a way to prevent people from overdosing on marijuana edibles. The products have been implicated in two suicides and one murder in the past 13 months. Almost five million edibles were sold in Colorado stores last year. Marijuana edibles are also legal in Washington state, and will soon be legal in Oregon and Alaska. Edible products are also available to medical marijuana users in at least six of the 23 states with medical marijuana programs, the article notes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Heroin Use Surges Among Whites Who Abuse Prescription Painkillers

Efforts to curb illicit drug use should target this population, researchers say THURSDAY, April 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Heroin use rose among people who abuse prescription narcotic painkillers such as Oxycontin or Vicodin, a new study found. The most significant increase was a 75 percent jump in the number of white people using heroin in 2008 to 2011, researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health revealed. "The noteworthy increase in the annual rate of heroin abuse or dependence among . . . whites parallels the significant increase in nonmedical opioid [narcotic] use during the last decade and the growing number of heroin overdose deaths described for this race and ethnic group in recent years," study leader Dr. Silvia Martins said in a university news release. Martins is an associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. Heroin use also spiked among Hispanics, according to the study. The study included information from 67,500 people who answered questions about their heroin use. These findings could help public health officials develop programs to prevent heroin use, the authors suggested. The investigators found that the use or abuse of heroin, dependence on the drug, and the risk of past use of the drug increased along with the frequency of narcotic painkiller use between 2008 and 2011. "Individuals tend to use prescription opioids as a substitute for heroin when heroin is unavailable, to augment a heroin-induced 'high,' to 'treat' withdrawal symptoms, and to curb heroin use," Martins explained in the news release. The researchers also found more frequent heroin use for Hispanics who used prescription painkillers between one and 29 days in the past year. Significant increases in heroin use were also identified among blacks and whites who used prescription painkillers between 100 and 365 days in the past year. With the exception of Hispanics, the study found that anyone who frequently used prescription narcotics was at greater risk for ever injecting heroin, as well as for heroin abuse or dependence in the past year. "This is alarming and raises concern since injection drug use among prescription opioid users can contribute to the spread of HIV . . . as well as of hepatitis C," Martins concluded. The study was published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. More information The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about substance abuse. SOURCE: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, news release, April 27, 2015

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

“Flakka” is Latest Synthetic Drug to Worry Experts

April 21, 2015 A drug known as “flakka” is the latest synthetic compound to raise concern among public health experts, Fox News reports. Flakka is a tweaked version of bath salts. In some cases, Flakka can cause heart palpitations and aggressive, violent behavior, the article notes. Use of the drug can affect the kidneys, leading to kidney failure or death. Flakka use has recently been reported in Florida, Ohio and Texas. The name is derived from the Spanish word “flaca,” which means “skinny.” The drug is sold in other parts of the country as “Gravel.” In Florida, Flakka contains alpha-PVP, a substance that provides an instant sense of euphoria, according to Jim Hall of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. The drug also gives a boost in physical strength that is similar to other stimulants, such as Ecstasy and cocaine, he said. Hospitals in South Florida are admitting 20 new patients a day for Flakka abuse, Hall told Fox News. “One of the reasons we think alpha-PVP is such a problem is because it is extremely dose-specific, and even just a little dose will give a person the desired effect they want,” he said. “Just a little more can create a number of serious adverse effects to the point the user doesn’t even know.” Flakka, which comes in crystalline rock form, can be snorted, swallowed, injected or vaped in an e-cigarette. While its effects are generally felt for three or four hours, they can continue for days. It is being sold in Florida for $5 for one-tenth of a gram. “It’s cheap like crack cocaine,” Hall said. “This is as close as we’ve come to a crack cocaine problem since 1995 in terms of the severe reactions, low prices, and that it’s available to young kids, and even homeless populations are now impacted.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

19 Percent of Americans Say They Take Some Sort of Drug Daily to Help them Relax

19 Percent of Americans Say They Take Some Sort of Drug Daily to Help Them Relax A new survey finds almost 19 percent of Americans say they take some sort of drug daily to help them relax. The rate of drug use varies widely by state, from 28 percent in West Virginia to 13.5 percent in Alaska. The findings come from an ongoing Gallup survey, conducted with health consultants Healthways, according to NBC News. The survey included calls to more than 176,000 adults nationwide. They were asked how often they use drugs or medications, including prescription drugs, which affect their mood and help them relax. Respondents were not asked about the types of drugs used. After West Virginia, the states with the highest daily drug use were Rhode Island (26 percent), Kentucky (24.5 percent), Alabama (24.2 percent), Louisiana (22.9 percent), South Carolina (22.8 percent), Mississippi, Missouri and Indiana (22 percent) and Oregon (21.9 percent). The states where the fewest people use daily drugs, after Alaska, are Wyoming (15.5 percent), California (15.8 percent), Illinois (16 percent), North Dakota (16.4 percent), New Jersey (16.5 percent), Colorado (16.7 percent), Texas (16.7 percent), Utah (16.8 percent) and Maryland (17.3 percent). People who take drugs daily to relax have an overall lower feeling of well-being, Gallup noted in a statement. "One possibility is that taking mood-altering drugs or medication nearly every day contributes to lower well-being," the organization noted. "But a more probable explanation is that Americans who already have lower well-being are more likely to use drugs or medication to relax or alter their mood, possibly to help cope with challenges related to their low purpose, social, financial, physical or community well-being."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Senate Bill Would End Federal Prohibition on Medical Marijuana MARCH 11TH, 2015 A bill introduced Tuesday by three U.S. senators would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana, The Washington Post reports.The bill was introduced by Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both Democrats, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, would reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs, which include heroin, have no accepted medical use in the United States. Schedule II drugs have a legitimate medical use but also have a high potential for abuse. The bill would permit Veterans Affairs doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and would make it easier for scientists to obtain marijuana for medical research. It would allow banks and credit unions to provide the same services to the marijuana industry as they do to other businesses, without the fear of federal prosecution or investigation, the article notes. Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, banks have been reluctant to conduct business with marijuana-related companies. Banks have feared being accused of helping these businesses launder their money. The measure would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states, but would prevent federal law enforcement from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in states that have their own medical marijuana programs. Currently 23 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. An additional 12 states have approved use of marijuana strains with high levels of cannabidiol (CBD), which does not produce the high associated with the drug, and is used to treat epileptic seizures. The measure would remove specific strains of CBD oil from the federal definition of marijuana, to allow its use in treatment of intractable seizures. The bill’s fate in the Senate is unclear. /By JOIN TOGETHER STAFF

Friday, March 6, 2015

Heroin-Related Drug Deaths Highest Among Young, White Males in the Midwest MARCH 4TH, 2015 Heroin-related deaths are now most common among young, white male adults in the Midwest, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fifteen years ago, the death rate was highest among older black males in the West and Northeast. In 2013, there were 8,257 heroin-related deaths in the United States, up from 5,925 the previous year, CBS News reports. There were about 3,000 heroin-related deaths in 2010. The deaths have increased among both men and women, in all ages groups, and in whites, blacks and Hispanics, the article notes. In 2000, the highest heroin death rate was among blacks ages 45 to 64. By 2013, the highest rate was among whites ages 18 to 44. Drug overdoses are the number one cause of injury-related death in the United States, with 43,982 deaths occurring in 2013, according to the CDC. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, opioid use disorders often begin with a prescription or taking pills from a home medicine cabinet. Almost 68 percent of people who begin using prescription drugs non-medically for the first time get the drugs from a family member or friend. Many people who initially abused prescription painkillers shifted to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to obtain By: Join Together Staff

Thursday, February 19, 2015

“Therapeutic Workplaces” Aim to Help Employees Tackle Drug Addiction FEBRUARY 17TH, 2015 Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say workplaces designed to help employees who are addicted to drugs can help them tackle their addiction. These “therapeutic workplaces” have been shown in studies to increase abstinence from drugs and maintain abstinence over long periods. These workplaces require frequent drug tests, and give employees unlimited second chances, Scientific American reports. Employees who stay off drugs are given cash bonuses. Those who test positive are sent home, but can return the next day. If they test negative, they can work full-time for an hourly wage until their next drug test. Researchers initially were concerned that giving employees cash bonuses would tempt them to buy more drugs. Instead, workers who received the bonuses in addition to hourly wages are abstinent for longer than those who simply receive an hourly wage. Some studies of therapeutic workplaces included workers addicted to cocaine, while others included those addicted to opioids who were receiving medication-assisted treatments such as methadone or naltrexone. The studies found about 80 percent of employees in therapeutic workplaces remained abstinent and refrained from other addictive behaviors, compared with half of those who worked without cash bonuses, the article notes. Last year the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy honored Dr. Kenneth Silverman, who heads therapeutic workplace research at Johns Hopkins. The concept has not widely spread throughout the addiction community. Most businesses are not able to use the model because of the intense monitoring required. Dr. Silverman is working with the group American Substance Abuse Professionals to increase use of the technique. By: Join Together Staff

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Almost One-Third of Women of Childbearing Age Fill Prescriptions for Opioid Painkillers January 27th, 2015 Almost one-third of women of childbearing age had an opioid painkiller prescription filled each year from 2008 to 2012, according to a new government study. These drugs can increase the risk for birth defects, The New York Times reports. The study, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found 39 percent of women ages 15 to 44 on Medicaid, and 28 percent of women of the same age group with private insurance, filled an opioid prescription in a pharmacy each of those years. “These are dangerous drugs that are addictive, and we are substantially overusing them,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden. He noted that women often do not know they are pregnant in the early weeks of a pregnancy, which is a crucial time for organ formation. If they take opioid painkillers, they could be “unknowingly exposing their unborn child,” he said. Opioid painkiller exposure can raise the risk for defects in a baby’s brain, spine, heart and abdominal wall, the article notes. Babies whose mothers take opioids during pregnancy are also at risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome. A baby with the syndrome experiences symptoms of withdrawal from medications or drugs taken by a mother during pregnancy. The researchers said it is not known why women on Medicaid had higher prescription rates than women with private insurance. “The higher opioid prescribing rates among Medicaid enrollees might be due to differences in the prescription medications covered under their health insurance plan, differences in use of health care services, or differences in the prevalence of underlying health conditions among Medicaid enrollees compared with persons covered by private health insurance,” the CDC noted in a news release. Oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine were the most frequently prescribed opioids for women with either public or private insurance.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Federal Judge to Rule on Whether Marijuana is Schedule I Drug /By JOIN TOGETHER STAFF JANUARY 15TH, 2015 A federal judge will rule later this year on whether marijuana should continue to be classified as a Schedule I drug, alongside LSD and heroin, according to the Associated Press. U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller agreed to consider marijuana’s drug classification under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. She held a five-day fact-finding hearing in late 2014. Final arguments are scheduled for February. Her decision to hold the hearing was in response to a pretrial defense motion in a federal case against alleged marijuana growers, the article notes. Schedule I drugs are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. “Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence,” the Drug Enforcement Administration notes on its website. If Mueller ruled that marijuana is not a Schedule I drug, it would apply only to the defendants in the case. It would almost certainly be appealed, according to the article. If the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law was unconstitutional, all the Western states would be affected. Lawyers for the defendants in the case say the federal marijuana law violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. They argue the government enforces marijuana law unevenly by permitting marijuana to be distributed in states where it is legal, while cracking down in states where it is illegal. Zenia K. Gilg, a lawyer for the growers, said the scientific understanding and public acceptance of marijuana have greatly increased since courts last considered the federal classification.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

DEA Cracks Down on Potent Marijuana Product Called “Wax” in California /By Join Together Staff Jan 6, 2015 The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is cracking down in California on a potent marijuana product called “wax,” according to ABC News. Wax is legal—and popular—in Colorado. Wax is a distillation of marijuana said to be so potent that a single hit will keep a person high for more than a day, the article notes. A person making wax uses the flammable substance butane to strip out the THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes a high. “There is no weed out there that possesses the punching power that the wax does,” an anonymous undercover DEA informant told ABC News’ “Nightline.” “And it’s like smoking 20 joints of the best grade of weed that you have into one hit of the wax.” Gary Hill of the DEA’s San Diego office said, “We have seen people have an onset of psychosis and even brain damage from that exposure to that high concentration of THC. Our concern is that this is going to spread before we get it under control.” In Colorado, wax is legal for anyone over the age of 21. It is sold in recreational marijuana dispensaries. A three-day contest called the X-Cup, held in Denver, is designed to determine who can make the most potent batch of wax.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Nearly 60 Percent of American Adults Have Problem Holiday Drinking The December holiday season may mean much merriment, but according to this survey, 59 percent of American adults who attend holiday parties drink too much and engage in potentially serious and dangerous behavior. The online survey, conducted by Harris Poll and commissioned by Caron Treatment Centers, polled 2,000 American adults over the age of 18. Some of the most concerning statistics pertain to parents with children under the age of 18 living at home. Of parents age 21+ who attend and drink at parties, one in four (26 percent) admit to driving home from a party after drinking too much. One in five (21 percent) have blacked out and couldn’t remember anything after drinking too much at a party. “Alcohol is still one of the deadliest drugs in our society,” said Doug Tieman, Caron’s president and CEO. “Our culture has normalized substance abuse to the extent that many people don’t perceive significant consequences as cause for concern even though they can indicate serious problems. Many of the unintended victims, of course, are our children. We all need to be accountable for our behavior. But, if you are an alcoholic, it’s unlikely that you can change your behavior without significant help. You will need support to develop the skills and tools to lead a happy and productive life without alcohol.” In addition, 55 percent of adults who attend holiday parties have seen someone drive even though they appeared to be impaired and 32 percent admit they drove impaired themselves. Surprisingly, 40 percent of adults over the age of 65 who drink at parties admit to driving while impaired compared to just 21 percent of 21-34 year olds. Even though they are breaking the law, parents with children under the age of 18 still living at home, are still providing them with alcohol. • 48 percent said it’s acceptable for 18-20 year olds to have at least one drink at a family holiday party if they are not driving. • 12 percent said it is acceptable for an 18-20 year old to drink any amount at a family holiday party if they are not driving. “Serving alcohol to minors is not only illegal, but sends a permissive message and can lead to serious and even deadly consequences,” said Dr. Harris Stratyner, PhD, Regional Clinical Vice President of Caron Treatment Centers in New York. “It’s never safe for an underage person to drink, even when ‘supervised,’ as drinking puts them at risk for emotional, physical, and psychological problems. Drinking at a young age may also cause brain, liver, and growth problems, and make someone more likely to develop an addiction later in life.” The survey showed that many Americans have misconceptions about alcoholism. • 37 percent believe most alcoholics cannot hold down a full-time job. • 72 percent agree that most alcoholics drink every day. • 10 percent strongly agree with the statement: “Alcoholics could stop drinking if they wanted to, but they lack the willpower.” “With the popularity of social media and frequent use of mobile video/photo uploads, it’s important to recognize that any person’s actions while under the influence could be seen by a wide net of people,” said Dr. Stratyner. “The consequences can impact lives both personally and professionally.” If you believe that you, a friend or family member may have a problem with alcohol, the National Institute of Health has a tool that may be able to help. Go to http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/ to Rethink Your Drinking.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Recreational Marijuana Legalized in Oregon and Alaska NOVEMBER 5TH, 2014 Oregon and Alaska voted to legalize recreational marijuana use on Tuesday. In Washington, D.C., residents voted to allow possession of marijuana, but not retail sales of the drug, Reuters reports. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Oregon and Alaska will follow Colorado and Washington state which legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012. Preliminary results indicate 54 percent of Oregon voters supported the marijuana measure, which takes effect in July 2015. Retail marijuana stores could open in 2016. In Alaska, 52 percent of voters supported legal marijuana, according to preliminary results. Once the election is certified, a state commission would have nine months to come up with regulations. Stores would be likely to open in 2016. The Washington, D.C. measure could be halted by the U.S. Congress, which has constitutional oversight of the nation’s capital, the article notes. Under the measure, adults 21 and older could possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants. Voters in Florida defeated a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana. In Maine, proposals to legalize the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana passed in South Portland and failed in Lewiston. Opponents of legalization in Oregon said they will advocate for stricter laws aimed at limiting access to marijuana by children. Kevin Sabet, co-founder of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said his group intends to build a broader coalition to counter pro-marijuana groups in 2016. “Tonight is going to inspire us to do better and to try harder and go after the donors we have to go after in order to level the playing field,” Sabet said. “The more people that hear about legalization, the more people are uncomfortable with it. For us it’s about getting our message out.”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Study Finds Positive Drug Test from Secondhand Marijuana Smoke Unlikely OCTOBER 22ND, 2014 A new study finds it is unlikely that a person exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke will test positive for marijuana themselves. While it is possible that extreme marijuana smoke exposure could produce a positive urine test, this occurrence is likely to be rare and limited to the hours immediately after exposure, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University. Six experienced marijuana users smoked marijuana with different concentrations of THC, the drug’s psychoactive ingredient, in a sealed chamber. Six non-smokers were seated next to the smokers. In two sessions, the participants were in a room with no ventilation, while in the third session they were in a ventilated room. The non-smokers’ urine was tested 13 times over the next 34 hours. Urine levels of THC surpassed typically detectable levels in only one participant, four to six hours after exposure. When the researchers used a more sensitive test, which is usually not used in workplace drug testing, they could detect lower THC levels, but only for 24 hours. Non-smokers in the ventilated room did not come close to meeting the threshold for a positive drug test, Newsweek reports. /By JOIN TOGETHER STAFF

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Recreational Marijuana Sales Surpass Medical Cannabis in Colorado SEPTEMBER 11TH, 2014 Sales of recreational marijuana have surpassed sales of medical marijuana for the first time in Colorado, according to an analysis of state tax revenues. Whether recreational marijuana will become a profit center for the state remains in question, Time reports. The state’s recreational marijuana shops opened in January. The state tax on medical marijuana is 2.9 percent, compared with 10 percent for recreational marijuana sold in state stores. In July, the state received $838,711 from medical marijuana taxes, and $2.97 million from recreational marijuana taxes. Consumers bought an estimated $28.9 million worth of medical marijuana at dispensaries, and $29.7 million worth of recreational marijuana at state recreational marijuana stores. The July sales figures boost legalization proponents’ argument that recreational marijuana will be profitable for Colorado, the article notes. In July, an editorial in The Denver Post noted medical marijuana purchases easily outpaced retail marijuana sales. The editorial noted it is relatively easy to get certified to obtain medical marijuana, and that the number of people with certifications grew from 110,979 at the beginning of the year to 116,180 at the end of April. A portion of medical marijuana users “almost certainly belong” in the retail market, the editorial stated. “Medical marijuana privileges should be confined to genuine patients, particularly now that the retail option exists, and not to those merely seeking a break on price because the taxes are lower,” the newspaper wrote. In July, Dr. Larry Wolk, head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told The Denver Post he was concerned there may not be much incentive for people to switch from medical marijuana to retail marijuana. /By JOIN TOGETHER STAFF

Thursday, September 11, 2014

DEA Will Allow Unused Narcotic Painkillers to be Returned to Pharmacies The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced Monday it will allow unused narcotic painkillers such as OxyContin to be returned to pharmacies. Until now, pharmacies were not allowed to accept unused opioid painkillers. The Controlled Substances Act required patients to dispose of the drugs themselves or give them to law enforcement during twice-yearly national “take-back” events. Consumers will also be permitted to mail unused prescription medications to an authorized collector, in packages that will be available at pharmacies and locations including senior centers and libraries, The New York Times reports. The new regulations are designed to curb the prescription drug abuse epidemic, the DEA said. “These new regulations will expand the public’s options to safely and responsibly dispose of unused or unwanted medications,” DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said in a news release. “The new rules will allow for around-the-clock, simple solutions to this ongoing problem. Now everyone can easily play a part in reducing the availability of these potentially dangerous drugs.” The regulations will take effect in one month, the article notes. In addition to OxyContin, the rule will include stimulants such as Adderall and depressants such as Ativan. The program will be voluntary for pharmacies. The DEA will require locations accepting drugs to permanently destroy them, but will not specify how they do it. The “take-back” events removed 4.1 million pounds of prescription drugs from circulation in the past four years, according to the DEA. During that time, about 3.9 billion prescriptions were filled. “They only removed an infinitesimal fraction of the reservoir of unused drugs that are out there,” said Dr. Nathaniel Katz of Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, who studies opioid abuse. “It’s like trying to eliminate malaria in Africa by killing a dozen mosquitoes.” Flushing drugs down the toilet, or throwing out prescriptions in the trash, are discouraged because they could harm the environment. /By Join Together Staff September 9th, 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

Medical marijuana and workplace safety Amid a flurry of new laws, more questions than answers exist Tom MusickAugust 24, 2014 Key points ■State laws vary, but employers still have the right to enforce drug-free workplace policies and dismiss workers if they can prove impairment on the job, experts say. ■The issue remains in flux as legal battles play out in state courts across the country. ■Research is limited on the subject, but two medical organizations recently formed a task force to study workplace health and safety issues associated with marijuana. Julie Carter is well aware of the burgeoning movement to legalize medical marijuana. It’s debated at jobsites. It’s splashed across headlines. It’s discussed among safety professionals. And no matter your stance on the issue, one thing is certain: It’s not going away anytime soon. “I think it’s going to be a hot-button issue for some time yet because things are changing so rapidly,” said Carter, director of environmental, health and safety at Roy Anderson Corp., a Gulfport, MS-based construction company. “As a corporation, we are maintaining that we have the right to a drug-free workplace. Those are our policies, period.” Yet when it comes to recent medical marijuana laws and what they might mean for workplace safety, the predominant punctuation is a question mark. The language of each law varies, leaving all parties involved having to navigate a legal maze when it comes to employers’ and workers’ rights. As of press time, 23 states and the District of Columbia had passed laws allowing the use of medical marijuana, and two of those states – Colorado and Washington – had passed laws permitting the recreational use of marijuana. (See map.) All of those laws stand in contrast to federal law, which prohibits marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance in the same category as LSD, heroin and ecstasy. The federal government has said it will not prosecute people who abide by their state’s marijuana laws. As to whether employers can ban its use by workers – including those with prescriptions to use medical marijuana outside of the workplace for chronic diseases and conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease – the answer depends on each state and its courts. In some states, including Washington, Oregon and Michigan, judges have ruled on the side of employers. In other states, including Minnesota, Arizona and Delaware, lawmakers have added specific protections for workers with medical marijuana prescriptions, shielding them from adverse action by employers based solely on a positive test result. “There are a lot of layers to it,” said Vance Knapp, a lawyer who represents employers in Colorado and Arizona for Denver-based Sherman & Howard LLC. “What we’re seeing is sort of a hodgepodge of rules and regulations from state to state to state.” Safety implications Marijuana is a mind-altering drug that contains more than 400 chemicals, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. One of those chemicals, THC, is believed to be the main cause of psychoactive effects as it travels from the bloodstream to the brain. For a crane operator, pipe fitter, welder, truck driver or anyone else in a safety-sensitive position, the drug can pose dangers. The short-term effects of marijuana include distorted perception; loss of coordination; and problems with memory, learning and problem-solving, according to DEA. Workers should treat medical marijuana the same as other prescription drugs such as Vicodin or Percocet, which can impair mental and physical abilities and affect worker safety, said Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, a senior economist with Santa Monica, CA-based nonprofit research institute RAND Corp. Workers also should know the rules of their state and their employer, particularly if they are subject to Department of Transportation regulations or if their employer has federal contracts – both of which can supersede protections in state laws. Other variables exist, such as a wide range in potency levels of THC in different types of marijuana. Someone who ingests marijuana that has a higher THC content may become more impaired and, in turn, less safe. “We’re not talking about a single substance when we talk about marijuana,” said Pacula, who serves as co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. “It’s the equivalent of saying ‘alcohol’ and encompassing hard liquor with low-alcohol-content stuff. We need our laws and policies to be more mindful of that.” Meanwhile, many safety professionals have become more diligent about observing employees during stretch-and-flex drills, lunch breaks and other encounters. “In some of the states where medical marijuana is legal, we have been increasing our awareness and making sure that we look at our employees,” Carter said. “Get a visual on them. [Be aware] if they seem not on their game, if they seem distracted – for any reason, but especially for that. We have this saying. We call it, ‘Eyes on hands, mind on task.’ When you’re stoned, you’ve got none of that going on.” Employers’ rights versus workers’ rights If an employer can prove a worker is impaired on the job, then that employer can take action regardless of the residing state. But what if a worker shows no impairment but tests positive for marijuana? Does the employer have the right to fire that worker as part of its drug-free workplace policy? Knapp’s short answer consists of two words: “Yes, but …” His long answer covers a slew of recent court cases, most notably Colorado’s Coats v. Dish Network. The plaintiff in that case, Brandon Coats, is a quadriplegic licensed to take medical marijuana. After Coats failed a drug test, Dish Network fired him from his job as a customer service representative. Coats sued the company, but the state’s Court of Appeals sided with Dish Network. At press time, the case was pending in the Colorado Supreme Court. “I’ve been advising my clients that you can have a zero-tolerance drug policy in your workplace, but there is that risk that there’s going to be litigation,” Knapp said. “The issue for employers, especially employers who are engaged in safety-sensitive activities, is that they have to be concerned about, ‘Can I still discipline an employee that has trace amounts of THC in their bloodstream?’ … When it comes down to the particulars of what you can or cannot do under your particular state law, that’s when you really need to contact your employment counselor.” Employers have been doing exactly that in Minnesota, which in May became the 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana. On the surface, the language in Minnesota’s law might make it the most employee-favorable law in the country, said Dale Deitchler, a Minneapolis-based attorney who specializes in labor law with Littler Mendelson. “In states where employment is not addressed, employers have the upper hand,” Deitchler said. “In states where employment is addressed, there’s no clear-cut winner coming out of this, and companies are going to have to understand that if there’s a legal challenge, they’re going to have to make new law.” Searching for answers As more states legalize some form of marijuana use, researchers and medical professionals are doing their best to keep pace by studying the drug’s effects. Earlier this year, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses announced plans to create a collaborative task force to study workplace health and safety issues associated with the use of marijuana and other drugs. Dr. Kathryn Mueller, president of ACOEM, said the task force’s goal is to avoid politicized rhetoric and analyze scientific information to help physicians and employers. “For safety-sensitive jobs, I think that people are not going to allow marijuana to be used on the job because it’s going to be a problem, most likely,” Mueller said. “The question remains, if you are using medical marijuana in some way, does that preclude you from all jobs that are available?” The answer, as with almost everything else regarding medical marijuana, is up for debate. “I suspect this is something that is going to get resolved by lawyers in court, and it will take a little while,” Pacula said. “But right now, there appears to be a lot of variation in how states are addressing it because they haven’t really been thinking about it. It’s all very new.” Tom Musick Associate Editor

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Employers’ new challenge: drug testing employees for synthetics Companies, testing facilities need to cope with rise in synthetic drug use By Trish Mehaffey, The Gazette Published: August 31 2014 | 12:01 am in News, CEDAR RAPIDS — Manufacturers of synthetic drugs such as K-2 stay one step ahead of the law by changing the chemical make up when one substance is banned. That isn’t only a problem for law enforcement but also for employers as they strive to create safe workplace environments. Employers are now faced with the dilemma of paying an added expense to test employees for synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, which differ from the regular drug tests. However, those tests may not be reliable because when the products are altered to skirt the law, new drug testing panels have to be developed to detect the recently created products. Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement Special Agent Dan Stepleton said the trend of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones isn’t going away. “We have the convenience shops and head shops selling under control, but they are just getting smarter about it,” Stepleton said last week. “They don’t have it out in the open, and the regular customers know to ask for it.” Stepleton said the manufacturers change the man-made chemicals sprayed on the materials to produce that “high” practically every week. “Outlaw one and there 15 new ones,” he said. There were two recent convictions of distributors and three more are pending trials in this district’s federal court. In the wake of one death and five overdoses attributed to synthetics, the city of Cedar Rapids just amended an ordinance to fine and criminally charge anyone selling or buying products. Eastern Iowa businesses that require drugs screens as part of the pre-employment process were asked if they were adding additional testing for synthetics, but many declined to comment and wouldn’t discuss their policies. However, Dennis LaGrange, a Mercy Medical Center counselor and licensed social worker, said about 50 percent of company supervisors he works with are aware of K-2 — a synthetic cannabis — but others had no knowledge of these illicit drugs. He provides drug and alcohol education for businesses, along with helping them set up their drug-free workplace policies. In the past year, LaGrange has gone to 30 local companies to provide on-site workplace drug education training and offered about eight trainings at Mercy for smaller companies. Dale Woolery, associate director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control and Policy in Des Moines, said employers and human resource managers have been asking for information or education on synthetics for the last few years. “It’s challenging for the workplace to keep up with the laws and the companies making the testing products, but a few years ago we couldn’t even detect synthetics,” Woolery said. “Technology is catching up.” Woolery said the total number of synthetic drug compounds listed as Schedule I controlled substances in Iowa now stands at 64, plus five classes of synthetic cannabinoids. QPS Employment Group, a staffing agency with 12 branches across the Iowa, including Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, places employees in many manufacturing and other companies. Its regional vice president, Jim Roy, has discovered many aren’t aware the standard 10-panel drug tests don’t detect synthetics. “When they find out there’s more cost to add synthetics, not many are willing to pay the cost,” Roy said. Gary Bucher, owner of ARCpoint Labs in Des Moines, said the standard 10-panel tests range from $50 to $60 per person. To add the two synthetic tests, it would be twice that amount. He has interest from employees wanting to test for synthetics, but that cost deters them. His labs have done testing for parents who request it and for treatment agencies, though. The standard 10-panel tests only detect marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines (methamphetamine), opiates (heroin), phencyclidine (PCP), barbiturates, methadone, propoxyphene, methaqualone (quaaludes) and benzodiazepine (Xanex), noted Dr. Shirley Pospisil with St. Luke’s Work Well Clinic. Pospisil said the clinic has tested 59 employees for K-2 this year from a company participating in Work Well and all came back negative. She said she wasn’t that familiar with synthetic drugs, except from reading the research, but they can cause irreparable damage and even death in some cases reported here and across the country. According to a DEA fact sheet, synthetic cannabinoids can cause severe agitation and anxiety, elevated blood pressure, tremors and seizures, hallucinations and suicidal and other harmful thoughts or actions. Synthetic cathinone — similar to amphetamines — use is associated with increased heart rate and blood pressure, chest pain, extreme paranoia, hallucinations and violent behavior. Local labs such as Weland in Cedar Rapids hasn’t tested synthetics for employers, only drug treatment programs, and C.J. Cooper and Associates in Hiawatha only tests synthetics for law enforcement and the Iowa Department of Corrections. Dr. Robert Hatcher with Iowa City Drug and Alcohol Testing said he hadn’t tested for employers but he’s had some inquiries from parents about testing their teens — but no one has followed through. But the reliability of the tests is an issue, said Justin Grodnitzky, a criminalist with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. The testing panels could be six months behind what authorities are seeing on the street. Another challenge is that the synthetic drugs process through the system faster, some within two hours — unlike marijuana and some other drugs. “Employers have to make informed decisions when it comes to testing,” said Barry Sample, director of Science and Technology for Employers Solutions of Quest Diagnostics in Madison, N.J. His company provides drug testing education to employers across the country and, he said, they all are dealing with those same issues. He has been providing education about synthetics since 2010. “I think most employers are aware of synthetics and recognize the threat,” he added. He doesn’t think it’s necessarily practical for employers to test for synthetics as part of the pre-employment process. Sample recommends they should test if there is “reasonable suspicion.” For more information on Synthetics or Reasonable suspicion testing & training contact Mobile Medical Corporation 888-662-8358 ext. 201