New designer drugs entering Australian worksites

Friday, 24 July, 2015

New designer drugs entering Australian worksites

A new wave of designer drugs undetectable by standard workplace testing protocols has begun to infiltrate Australian workplaces, a national drug testing laboratory group has warned.

Advanced screening of samples taken from workplaces in recent months had begun to detect traces of new designer drugs, such as flakka (alpha PVP), as well as ketamine and synthetic cannabis, said Andrew Leibie, national marketing director for SafeWork Laboratories.

Flakka causes hyper stimulation and paranoia while ketamine is used medically as an anaesthetic or illicitly to create powerful hallucinogenic effects.

“Given that only a small number of drug tests undergo advanced screening, it’s difficult to know how far the new designer drugs have infiltrated into the workplace,” Leibie said.

“However, based on what’s happening in parts of Asia where use of these drugs has been growing rapidly, it’s clear the problem will quickly increase unless employers begin testing for the new drugs as soon as possible.

“It’s not just a blue collar problem. Drugs in the workplace are just as likely to be affecting professionals and management as they are unskilled labourers.”

Leibie, who is also a qualified toxicologist with international experience, said random drug testing was proven to be effective in reducing drug use in the workplace.

“When random drug tests are first introduced at a new site, it’s not unusual for up to 10% of samples to be positive for drugs such as cannabis or amphetamines,” he said.

“Once the workforce is aware that they face random testing for these drugs, the rate drops almost overnight to around 5% and eventually to between 3 and 4%.

“Because new designer drugs such as flakka do not show up in standard drug tests, there is currently no incentive for workers to stop taking them.”

Leibie added that while advanced drug testing is more expensive, it is something that employers need to take into account as part of their workplace health and safety spend.

SafeWork Laboratories was formed in 2012 and is an advanced drug testing provider in Australia. It uses state-of-the-art analysis capable of detecting a large range of illicit compounds, including synthetic drugs and new-age substances, of which many had previously only been detectable in police forensic labs.

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