Posted in drug and alcohol testing, drug screening
The Federal Railroad Administration has proposed the expansion of its drug and alcohol testing regulations for railroad workers, particularly “maintenance-of-way” (MOW) employees, in order to protect its workers and public safety.
If the new policy is passed, all railroad employees, contractors and subcontractors who perform maintenance tasks — including inspecting, installing and repairing railroad tracks and electric track systems — will be subject to new drug-and-alcohol screening guidelines. Those who serve as flagmen will also be screened.
Since 1991, the U.S. Department of Transportation has been required to ensure transportation agencies employ federally mandated drug and alcohol testing programs. But maintenance-of-way employees, who may be contractors to the railroad and not specifically employees of the department, may not have been required to undergo the same kinds of testing.
The FRA wants to set its minimum testing percentages at 50% of all employees each year for drug testing, and 25% for alcohol testing each year. Employees, contractors and subcontractors would be selected at random for screening, though if a MOW worker is behaving suspiciously, he or she may also be subject to drug or alcohol testing.
Not only do these workers put themselves at risk of danger from being struck by moving trains, but their jobs require clear heads in order to prevent the rails and cars from becoming a public danger for railroad passengers and other vehicles that may be crossing or passing near the tracks.
It is estimated that, over a 20-year period, the new proposed regulations would cost approximately $24 million to cover the MOW employees and contractors. But the policy is expected to save the transportation industry more than $115 million in injury, property damage and fatality liability charges.
Posted in drug screening, drug tests
Rio de Janeiro used to have an accredited drug-testing lab. But it was shut down in 2013 by the World Anti-Doping Agency and lost its accreditation due to “repeated failures,” including too many false positives on athlete drug tests.
During the recent soccer World Cup, which also took place in Rio, Brazil had to ship its samples for drug screening to Switzerland for testing. That process cost FIFA approximately $250,000.
Meanwhile, the 2016 Olympics will be hosted in Rio de Janeiro as well. The Games are just two short years away, and the country still finds itself without a drug-screening lab that has been accredited by WADA and deemed suitable for screening the athletes that will be arriving from all over the world.
If Brazil cannot get its anti-doping act together, it may be forced to ship testing samples to another lab again. If so, it is likely to cost the astronomically more than it did for the World Cup, as only 800 players were tested for drugs during the soccer tournament. More than 10,000 athletes are expected to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
There are only 32 WADA-accredited labs in the world.
Brazil’s lab was closed after it found that .81% of tests fell outside the normal substance limits; its samples were tested at a separate lab and found to be incorrect. False positives on drug tests can destroy athletes’ reputations, not to mention keep them from competing and cause them to lose the sponsorships that are so common at the summer and winter Games.
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Posted in drug screening, drug testing, employee drug screening
Utah-based SkyWest Airlines was fined earlier this month after allegedly informing the Federal Aviation Administration of problems related to its drug testing policies over the previous two years. The FAA fined SkyWest $295,750 for the violations, in accordance with the Department of Transportation’s drug-testing policies.
SkyWest allegedly received the fine for three different types of violations: the first being that more than 150 employees were left out of the airline’s random drug testing pool; second, due to two employees failing drug tests and still being hired for “safety sensitive” roles; and finally, the airline requiring post-accident drug tests for non-safety-sensitive personnel on three separate occasions, unnecessarily.
SkyWest expressed its disappointment in the FAA’s decision to impose fines since the airline informed the FAA directly of the problems. In an e-mail statement, SkyWest airline spokesperson Marissa Snow said, “We are extremely disappointed with the FAA’s decision to impose a penalty for a self-disclosure. SkyWest Airlines maintains a robust drug and alcohol testing program for all safety-sensitive employees, and is committed to maintaining a drug-free workplace.”
SkyWest pilots fly planes for four other airlines as well, including Delta Airlines and American Airlines. SkyWest and the FAA are expected to meet sometime this month to review the violations.
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Posted in drug screening, drug test, drug testing, employee drug screening, pre-employment drug tests
As states pass legislation legalizing the use of marijuana, employers are finding themselves in a tough spot. Especially if they have policies in place that require applicants to pass a pre-employment drug test before an offer is extended.
Obviously, employers want to know that the people they hire are going to be good workers and that they will not put other employees — or the company — at risk for safety issues. Therefore, many companies have previously chosen to conduct a pre-employment drug test on potential candidates to ensure the applicant is not one of the 23.9 million Americans that are drug users.
But when states like Colorado have legalized marijuana — or as states such as California are considering legislation that would legalize the drug — can employers choose not to employ a candidate who uses a completely legal substance off the clock?
After marijuana was legalized in Colorado, the Mountain State Employers Council created guidelines to help the state’s employers with their drug-testing policies. Their guidelines state that employees cannot be punished for legal off-duty activities, but that employers can still conduct a pre-employment drug test on applicants (and refuse to hire legal drug users) without worry of discrimination.
Meanwhile, some employers prefer not to conduct drug tests at all, because the legalization of cannabis creates a gray area that’s akin to the space between a rock and a hard place: should it be treated as alcohol, fine in moderation? Or should its use be considered equivalent to an illegal substance? And how does marijuana usage fall in regard to zero-tolerance policies?
Traditional drug tests screen for nine different types of substances, including opiates, barbiturates, amphetamines, and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Some expect that, as marijuana usage becomes legal in more states, a standard pre-employment drug test will need to be changed to only test for harder substances. Others are likely to follow in Colorado’s footsteps, and revise their existing drug-testing policies to account for what the company will and will not allow in regard to hiring legal drug users.
Posted in drug screening, drug testing
The FIFA World Cup is, quite literally, good clean fun. So far, after drug testing urine and blood samples from 800 of the sport’s players, not a single one has turned up positive.
That number includes clean drug tests for 91 percent of the members of the preliminary squads for each team. Those squads comprise 30 members, but only 23 members of each team actually traveled to Brazil to compete.
FIFA began conducting drug tests on those competing players during the first nine matches.
Urine and blood samples are collected and sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency lab in Switzerland, after Brazil lost its lab accreditation in 2013. Despite being shipped from Rio de Janeiro, FIFA Chief Medical Officer Jiri Dvorak made a statement that “all samples arrived under 36 hours in Lausanne [Switzerland] and were processed within 24 hours.”
Thirty-two teams, including one from host country Brazil, are participating in the World Cup, which began on June 12 and will continue through July 13.
photo credit: CLF via photopin cc
Posted in drug screening, employee drug screening, pre-employment screening
It makes sense that healthcare facilities would want their employees to be healthy, considering that their job is to dole out advice and care to keep others healthy. But do hospitals and health systems have the right to include smoking bans in their corporate hiring policy? Or can banning cigarettes and other forms of tobacco be considered a form of discrimination?
In 2007, a clinic in Ohio began refusing to hire employees that utilized tobacco products. Since then, between 50 and 60 percent of health care clinics have instated similar anti-smoking policies, which may include nicotine testing in addition to any pre-employment drug tests. Insurance group Humana began utilizing tobacco tests during the hiring process back in 2011.
However, some are calling these bans discrimination, including a few professors that have written an article in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Their claims are based on research that claims banning tobacco usage may have a greater impact on those who are “lower-skilled.”
Dr. Thomas Huddle and Dr. Stefan Kertesz — both affiliated with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, which has its own anti-smoking policy — contributed to the assessment. Their article states “Smokers are only 18 percent of the adult population in the United States, but they make up 26.1 percent of those with incomes less than $35,000/year and 25.5 percent of those without a high school diploma.”
The report continues that among medical school students, it is “likely to be poorer individuals” and minorities who will be barred from receiving jobs on the basis of anti-tobacco restrictions.
Meanwhile, UAB’s Health System CEO William Ferniany says that out of every 1,000 applicants at UAB Hospital, less than 2 percent of them fail nicotine tests.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not currently protect against tobacco users. The EEOC only protects against discrimination in cases of age, race, gender, religion, disability, national origin, pregnancy and cases of harassment.
Posted in drug screening, drug testing, employee drug screening, prescription drugs
California doctors may find new restrictions in place to prevent potential drug abuse, if a new bill passes. Supporters hope that the bill will prevent doctors from recklessly prescribing painkillers to addicts, and ensure that doctors are not under the influence themselves when practicing.
The bill, called the Troy and Alana Pack Act, has already garnered 830,000 signatures, enough to put it before the general population. The bill was named for bill sponsor Bob Pack’s children after they died in a car crash at the hands of a driver who had been under the influence of narcotic painkillers.
If passed, the ballot measure would require doctors to undergo random drug tests, and would require them to look each patient up in a database before prescribing drugs, in order to make sure the patient doesn’t have a history of prescription abuse. It would also raise the maximum $250,000 “pain and suffering” payout that is currently enforced for medical malpractice.
“If you lose a child because of medical negligence, the law says that child’s life is worth $250,000,” said Brian Kapitack, who works for the Consumer Attorneys of California.
Many doctors and hospitals oppose this bill, on the grounds that it is unnecessary. However, a Consumer Watchdog representative says that 18 percent of doctors will have a substance abuse problem at some point during their careers.
California residents will have the opportunity to vote on the Troy and Alana Pack Act in the November elections.
Posted in drug screening
Because marijuana use can turn up on drug tests, some have turned to the use of a synthetic version of the drug in order to keep usage under wraps. The synthetic version of the drug, which is called “Spice,” utilizes different chemical compounds than marijuana, but has a similar effect on the brain as non-synthetic cannabis. It is also harder for drug tests to detect. Two researchers at the Air Force Academy hope to change that.
Air Force Academy professor Dr. Timm Knoerzer and senior cadet Jacob Krimbill have been working to create a method of detecting Spice, by re-creating the body’s metabolic processes and determining what the drug’s chemical compounds would look like after absorption. To do this, the two had to “boil down” Spice into its purest form and use laboratory space to re-create the effects of human bodily systems.
“It’s like chemical Legos,” said Knoerzer, who has a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical chemistry.
Airmen are more likely to use the synthetic version to prevent drug tests from turning up positive. If Knoerzer and Krimbill succeed in their efforts, drug tests will be able to determine the presence of Spice in the body, even weeks after the fact. Their research may also lead to more knowledge of how chemistry can work in unison with the body.
The two continue to work on research, subjecting their samples to a variety of tests to ensure they’re heading in the right direction. The Air Force Academy’s student-run research work is a point of pride for the campus, and many similar research projects have received federal funding.
Posted in drug screening, drugs in the workplace
Good news for employers: a study conducted by Quest Diagnostics has shown that illegal drug usage has decreased among employees over the past several years. The bad news is that, alternatively, there has been a rise in prescription drug usage, whether or not the drug has actually been prescribed to a particular patient.
Drug-testing laboratory Quest Diagnostics has been reviewing urine tests that were collected over the past 26 years.
The study showed that in 1988, the percentage of employees who failed drug tests for using illegal drugs was 13.6 percent, whereas only 3.5 percent of drug tests turned up illegal substances in 2012. In addition to urine tests, labs are now able to test saliva and hair follicles, to reduce the chances of employees tampering with test substances.
Meanwhile, prescription amphetamine, opiate and painkiller use has increased since 2002, with Vicodin’s usage increasing a whopping 172 percent, and other prescription usage increasing by 70 to 100 percent. While these prescriptions test positive on drug tests, it is not possible to tell just from the tests whether or not an employee is abusing the drug illegally, or if he or she has a valid prescription for the substance. Lab workers must go back through tests and mark them as negative if the employee has a current prescription for the medication. More than half of such tests are considered “false positives” due to being prescribed the medication.
Of course, even if an employee is using a prescription legally, such as taking prescribed painkillers after a work accident, the presence of the drug in the employee’s bloodstream can still affect their ability to perform their jobs. Managers should be aware of their employees’ behavior, and make note of unusual activities, as some prescription drugs can cause dizziness, trouble operating motor vehicles, and other potentially dangerous behavior.
The drug-testing waters are even muddier now that some states, such as Colorado, have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Marijuana use still turns up on drug tests, and some occupations prohibit its use even in states where it is legal, for the safety of citizens or other workers. Employers and courts will need to determine if and how to deal with employees who utilize marijuana recreationally, when workplace drug tests turn up positive.
Posted in drug screening, drug tests
The Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Pharmacy in Northern Ireland has developed a new technology that may make drug testing easier, safer and less painful than current blood tests. The university is testing a sticky, plaster-like patch that utilizes tiny, polymer microneedles to test for drugs in the body’s interstitial fluid. Currently, drug tests can be performed by testing the urine, blood, hair, or saliva, though not all methods are equally effective.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is funding the research that award-winning researcher Dr. Ryan Donnelly is conducting. Dr. Connelly says the rough patches — which contain a “forest” of tiny needles — are potentially a safer and less painful means of conducting drug tests.
“Compared with drawing blood, our patches can get their samples in a minimally invasive way,” said Dr. Donnelly. “And it’s far safer than using a conventional needle. These microneedles, once they have been used, become softened, so that there’s no danger of dirty needles transferring infection to another patient, or one of the healthcare workers.”
The patch would be a big step in protecting healthcare providers as well, as millions of health workers are affected each year by needle injuries and infections.
The interstitial fluid, which is the fluid between the body’s cells, contains the same compounds that would be found in the blood, if drugs were present in the bloodstream, so screening processes would be just as effective with the patch as in traditional blood tests.
The patch technology was originally intended to inject vaccines into the skin, and has also been shown to be able to absorb specific fluids from the skin and tissue. Early tests show that it picks up on drug compounds, and researchers are working to expand the detectable concentration of those substances.
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