Pubdate: Sat, 26 Jan 2013
Source: Telegram, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2013 The Telegram
Author: Katie Starr


Drug-testing policies becoming the norm

Second in a two-part series

At 3 p.m. on a weekday, a bar on George Street is nearly empty. A
bartender idly wipes the counter while a patron leans against it,
nursing a beer.

He looks nervous, eyes darting towards two other patrons sitting in
the back.

"I'm not telling you my name," he says. "And you don't need to know
where I work."

With that, he nods.

"Yeah, coke's there," he says. "I've seen it, or guys come in and they
were doing it the night before."

He's not referring to cocaine at a house party or a club. He's talking
about cocaine at work.

With cocaine use on the rise in St. John's, the issue of substance
abuse in the workplace is a growing safety concern.

But it's not something that should just trouble employers, says
Richard Alexander, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador
Employers' Council.

Drug abuse in the workplace is a community concern, Alexander

He points to drug-testing policies as a way to safeguard workers and

"Drug tests help create safe workplaces and in turn create safe
communities," says Alexander.

He believes many people who would normally use drugs forgo them if
they know their place of work has a drug-testing policy.

Positive test results for drugs have gone up anecdotally, employers
say, but Alexander isn't sure more positive results is indicative of
increased hard drug usage. "If you start looking for it more, you're
going to find it more," says Alexander.

Drug-testing policies are common in many workplaces and are becoming
the norm in safety-sensitive industries such as offshore oil
production, according to St. John's lawyer Randy Earle.

It goes back to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince
William Sound, a "watershed event," Earle says, that is considered one
of the worst human-caused marine environmental disasters.

The Exxon Valdez captain's alleged drunkenness brought home to
employers the need to address substance abuse in the workplace.

Today, there are parameters in place for workplace drug testing to
protect workers' rights.

The 2010 Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Act guards against
discrimination on what are called "prohibited grounds," including
race, colour, nationality, age, sexual orientation and disability.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission,
drug testing could discriminate against people who have a substance
abuse problem that reaches the stage of dependency.

There are also worries about invasion of privacy, but Alexander says
the benefits of drug testing outweigh privacy concerns.

"What's more important to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?" he

"Is it people returning home, or is it protecting the privacy of
individuals using illegal drugs? The ultimate goal is to protect
people's lives."

There are three types of testing, according to the Human Rights
Commission - pre-employment testing, random testing and post-incident

Alexander says pre-employment and post-incident testing are the most

With drug-testing policies becoming the norm in certain industries,
people looking to find ways around the tests are turning to Internet
forums for advice.

RNC Const. Tim Hogan says he's heard it all.

"I've heard of people choosing to do cocaine instead of weed because
it goes through your system faster and it's easier to pass a test," he
says. "But I'm not sure if it's an urban myth or not."

RCMP Sgt. Steve Conohan has heard that, too.

"It's quite possible. Cannabis attaches itself to the fat cells of the
body, so it can stay in the system for up to 41 days," Conohan says.

Cocaine, on the other hand, can pass through the body in three to five
days, although it can take longer if the individual is a high-dose or
chronic user, say police.

As for at-home drug-testing kits, Conohan is skeptical.

"There are a number of different products available on the market," he
says. "Some of them are specifically designed to defeat urine tests.
Whether or not they work, though, is open to a lot of

But does the prevalence of workplace drug testing mean there's a
problem with people coming into work under the influence of drugs?

It's not a conclusion to jump to, says Alexander.

"Drug tests, whether they test urine or hair follicles, work,"
Alexander says.

"It's a preventative, proactive measure."

Drug tests are not the only measure employers in the province are

The Human Rights Commission advises employers to have an Employment
Assistance Program in place that can offer employees access to
counselling and therapy.

It's an approach that considers both the complicated nature of
addiction and the priority of workplace safety, according to the commission.

Back at the bar, the patron clams up and drifts away.

Talking about cocaine in the workplace isn't something many people
feel comfortable going on the record about.

On top of that, there's a lack of current Canadian statistics on drug
use in the workplace, according to a 2012 report by Barbara Butler and
Associates that compares Canadian figures to U.S. ones.

So, how common is cocaine in workplaces around St.

It's hard to tell, since the conversation about drug abuse at work is
still shrouded in hearsay and rumour.
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