Workplace drug tests won’t catch all drug addictions

Overall drug use in the workplace continues to drop, according to the newest statistics from Diagnostic Laboratory Services, but there’s still a problem. There are certain drugs, though legal, that are being abused and there’s no way for a workplace to test for them.

It’s a scenario Lisa Cook, executive director of the drug abuse treatment center, Ku Aloha Ola Mau, continues to see. “It usually starts with an accident, injury or a surgery, and they get prescribed the painkillers for that and they don’t stop,” she said.

Cook says she has seen an increase in the number of people who are being treated for an addiction to painkillers.

In fact, 10 years ago, one in 10 people who walked through her doors, was treated for heroin. Now, one in 10, is being treated for some kind of painkiller, such as hydrocodone or Vicodin. It’s an increasing problem that drug tests in Hawaii’s workforce will not catch.

“So someone could have a drug addiction and the employer would not know about it through a drug test?” KHON2 asked.

“That’s true for certain synthetic opioids that we’re not allowed by law to test for,” said Carl Linden with Diagnostic Laboratory Services.

KHON2 looked into just what types of drugs your employer can have you tested for and here’s what we found: methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, including heroin, and PCP.

In Hawaii, drug tests will not screen for painkillers or synthetic drugs, including bath salts and spice.

“In most of the states on the mainland, you can test for them for non-federal workers because they don’t have state laws that address what employers can test,” Linden said.

Hawaii follows federal guidelines, which officials are trying to change to get painkillers included in the work place drug tests. But changing federal guidelines could take years.

Still, it’s a move that Cook says she supports. “Because if you can catch it early, there are ways to help people to stabilize and eventually taper off and live a normal life,” she said.

At the moment, federal officials are not working on changing drug tests to include bath salts or spice.

Even though workplace drug testing does not include synthetic drugs, if a doctor orders it, it can be performed.

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