By now you’ve probably heard about synthetic marijuana and bath salts on the news. In fact, you may have even seen them for sale in convenience stores or online. These drugs are very frightening because of their unpredictable effects, and their easy availability. They also pose some unique difficulties for businesses because their chemical compositions are always changing. As a result, they may fall into a legal gray area and they are very difficult to test for. But, the effects of these drugs can be extreme (find more information at www.dea.gov) and present serious hazards to workplace health and safety. Prepare your workplace to address synthetic drugs by following these steps:
Update Your Policy Although some of the compounds found in bath salts and synthetic marijuana are scheduled drugs, any given specimen may or may not contain those specific illegal substances. Even if an illegal substance is present, it would be very difficult to positively identify. As a result, policies whose definition of drug limits itself to “illegal or illicit substances” may not adequately cover synthetic drugs. It is important to include language referring to “use of impairing substances” in order to cover not only synthetic drug use, but inhalant use, as well.
Have a Reasonable Suspicion Game Plan The typical course of a reasonable suspicion determination followed by a reasonable suspicion drug test will not adequately address the use of synthetic drugs. Just as the legality of synthetic drugs depends on certain chemicals being present, so does their ability to be detected on a drug screen. Additionally, most employers do not routinely test for synthetic drugs because they require a specialized and expensive test. Therefore, businesses need to find ways to address synthetic drug use that don’t hinge on a failed drug test. One possibility might be to establish access to a drug recognition expert (often a member of law enforcement, but not necessarily) or to devise a plan of action with your occupational health clinic who may be able to provide emergency fit for duty exams that can formally identify and document impairment.
Educate Your Employees As with any new drug to hit your community, it is important to educate your employees about the dangers associated with its use. Not only will this information protect your employee’s health and safety, but it can give them the knowledge they need to protect their children’s health and safety. It is particularly important to educate on synthetic drugs because they are still widely available in our communities and online. Your employees may have already seen them but not even realized they were drugs because they are sold in colorful packages and marketed as incense, bath salts, plant food, etc. The small investment required to educate your employees about synthetic drugs can give them to tools they need to make healthy choices and protect and educate their children.
The drug landscape is always changing and it is important to continually update your policies and procedures to keep up (if you are still testing for methaqualone, I’m talking to you!). If your workplace needs help addressing synthetic drugs or any other recent developments, please contact us. As always, we welcome your comments and questions below.