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Tests Show Workers Have Record High Levels Of 'Ice' In Their Systems

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A Queensland drug testing firm has reported two of the highest ever detectable levels of methamphetamine in urine samples in the service’s almost 10-year history.

Mackay-based CQ Rescue Health Services manager Samantha O’Neill said in two recent random drug and alcohol screenings, two positive samples both more than 930 times over the acceptable limit for methamphetamine, more commonly known as Ice, were detected in two workers’ urine samples.

Ms O’Neill said CQ Rescue Health Service had seen a huge spike in the detected and rampant drug use in workplaces across the region, with more than 19 positive drug tests confirmed by laboratory testing in June this year, as compared to an average of about five or six positive tests a month in 2017.

“This means we are getting five times more positive drug tests than we did just two years ago which is an accurate representation of the serious drug issue in this region,” she said.

An acceptable level of methamphetamine detected in a drug test represented 150 ug/L. The workers, both aged between 40 and 50, recorded 139,000 ug/L and 140,000 ug/L, Ms O’Neill said, this represented a terrifying and gross abuse of the drug and a huge concern in a workplace.

Toxicologists who confirmed the results with laboratory testing suggested these were two of the higher levels recorded and that such excessive samples could actually damage their laboratory testing equipment.

Other recent drug tests conducted by CQ Rescue Health Services indicated marijuana (THC) levels in urine samples of between 40 and 60 times the acceptable limit.

The Paget-based drug and alcohol testing service had also seen a huge spike in use of adulterants such as fake urine to mask drug abuse.

Synthetic urine was readily available online with accompanying heat packs or samples provided during the testing process were actually stale/old urine. This was easily detectable during testing due to stringent NATA accredited guidelines.

“We are averaging about 5 or 6 tampered drug tests each month where people are using adulterants, substitution or diluting the urine samples which is a deliberate attempt to mask
drug use,” she said.

Ms O’Neill said the alarming increase in drug detections meant there were a huge number of people turning up to work under the influence of ice and other illicit drugs, meaning there was an enormous risk of injury and accident in workplaces across the region.

She urged both employers and employees to be vigilant about noticing drug use indicators using the AWARE acronym (Aggressive and Agitated; Weary and Withdrawn; Anxious and nervous; Restlessness and Response (pupils dilated and hyperactivity); (Excessive sweating and rapid heartbeat.)

“All workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and ensure they don’t adversely affect that of others, while many employers have explicit policies to test their workers for alcohol and illicit substances to ensure a safe workplace,” she said.

CQ Rescue Health Services is a subsidiary organisation of Central Queensland Helicopter Rescue Service (CQ Rescue) and all proceeds from drug and alcohol testing are used to fund the region’s rescue helicopter.

CQ Rescue Health conducts pre-employment and random drug testing as well as post incident and rehabilitation or court-appointed compliance testing. Services include urine and saliva drug testing in workplaces, testing at the CQ Rescue office where no appointment is necessary and Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometer (LC-MS) laboratory confirmation following a non-negative result.

In terms of the CQ Rescue Health Services results, Bill Cleary from Mackay Drug Testing Services said it is good to see that more companies are employing a positive approach to get on top of the issue.

He said he is always happy to help employers figure out the best drug testing equipment to purchase so they don't waste their money and wind up getting false positives. Mr Cleary is working with around a dozen companies now who are doing their own testing but he is looking over their shoulder, helping them stay on track.

Mr Cleary said, back in the day a lot of people who returned positive results would have had Marijuana in their systems, around 90 per-cent.

He said these days "we are seeing far more Methamphetamines and Amphetamines, people failing on a daily basis".

In terms of the turnaround he has seen, Mr Cleary thinks it could be because Meth "is easier to get a hold of, it's cheap and it clears your system relatively fairly quickly whereas Marijuana, if you're dehydrated and don't look after yourself, which people who tend to take drugs aren't, can stay in your system for quite some time".

Bill stresses that his job is to make sure that people are fit for work, saying he doesn't care what workers do on weekends or after hours. Bill said, importantly, he does not judge.

His advice to employers is "if you're going to use something that's fine...check and double check that it does comply to Australian standards, the certificate for it must be directed from an independent laboratory; companies write their own certificates out, we see that all the time and if you start getting any false positives at all, question the device not the people".

He said he did a tender for a company on one of the mine sites a while ago and one of the men at the site asked what percentage he should allow for false positives and Mr Cleary replied "none".

Unfortunately he said the standard of drug and alcohol testing within the trucking industry in Australia is very poor. Sadly he said there are still workplaces doing no drug and alcohol testing or are worried the results could cause them to halve their workforce.

He said Occupational Health And Safety Officers have an important job to do considering recent deaths and injury on mine sites.

He said this also extends to the roads, saying the Police are sick of "pulling dead bodies out of cars".

Bill said he is surprised to see the changes over the years where there is drug testing in pubs and clubs and even school bus drivers are being breath tested, adding that more people are failing drug tests on the side of the road than they are alcohol these days.

By Michelle Price