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