Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cocaine Comeback?

An interesting article from Medical News Today about a resurgence of cocaine use in Florida caught my attention. The article points to a study conducted by the University of Florida and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement which shows that the number of times cocaine has been cited as the cause of death in coroner’s reports has almost doubled between 2000 and 2005. The article surmises that this is likely indicative of a nationwide trend of increased cocaine use.

Unfortunately, I can't say this surprises us. In fact, a recent analysis of around 2000 DrugWipe surface assessments conducted over the past few years showed that cocaine showed up in 38% of the tests conducted. Now, first let me say that this does NOT indicate that 38% of the population is using cocaine. A DrugWipe can be used to test multiple surfaces so if you are testing 20 lockers in a school with one DrugWipe, just one of those lockers would have to have cocaine residue on it for the test to come back positive. Though on the flip side, you could test one forklift in a company that is shared by 5 or more employees who could all be using cocaine. The actual percentage of users is impossible to determine with surface assessments.

What is interesting from that analysis, however, is that there are more positive results for cocaine than any other drug, including marijuana. Why? I’m not really sure but here are a couple of theories that have been kicked around:

1. Traditional drug tests are biased toward marijuana users because
marijuana can be detected in the system for weeks after use as opposed to just
a day or two with “hard” drugs like cocaine. With the short detection
window for the “hard” drugs in urine tests, these tests may be missing a number
of cocaine users.

2. Cocaine is an “ideal” drug to use in a school or workplace setting. It’s easily transported, has no smell and can be easily snorted off the back of a toilet seat or other surface in a discreet location. Also the signs of someone that has been using cocaine are similar to someone who’s had a lot of caffeine so it may not be obvious if a student or employee is actively impaired on the drug.

One other point the article makes is that the prevalence of cocaine seems to be higher is wealthy neighborhoods and near college towns. That may be so, but I can tell you from personal experience, cocaine and crack (which is an inexpensive variation of cocaine) are everywhere. From inner-city neighborhoods to wealthy suburbs to places in-between, we’ve found contamination from cocaine residue during surface assessments. The most heart-breaking was finding it (in fairly high levles) on the lockers of 6th and 7th grade students in a school whose population would not be considered wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. But that's a story for another post.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Got D.O.T.?

This afternoon I was talking with the managers from a local company about drug testing. Most of the employees of this company are truck drivers who fall under the D.O.T. testing guidelines. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these, the Department of Transportation has guidelines requiring drug testing for drivers who operate a commercial vehicle in interstate or intrastate commerce. If you ever have trouble falling asleep, you can read all 103 pages of the guidelines here. I have made my way through the entire document, but it was quite a struggle. My favorite part was the one that describes what color the water in the toilet has to be in bathrooms where a DOT drug test is conducted (the answer is blue).

The purpose of these guidelines is admirable. The DOT wants to ensure drivers who operate large trucks and heavy machinery are not using drugs and therefore posing a safety risk to themselves, their coworkers, and the public. You don’t want to be driving down the interstate with 18 wheelers whose drivers are high on cocaine or smoking a joint!

However, the guidelines do have loopholes.

The biggest drawback is that most DOT drug testing is done on a random basis. This is not the most efficient way of drug testing, as I discussed in my last post. In the company I was talking to today, they said they’ve had employees who’ve been pulled for drug testing twice within 4 months while others who have not been pulled in 4 years. They don’t think it’s a particularly effective way of drug testing, and I don’t disagree.

Another big drawback to the DOT guidelines (and I’m admittedly biased) is that currently they only allow for urine testing. Urine may not be the best tool for a company to use for drug testing. It could be. But it also could be DrugWipe, PreScreen, hair testing, blood testing, saliva testing, or a combination of these. But companies don’t have the freedom to choose what they think works best for them to be compliant under the DOT requirements. They’re stuck with urine.

There are revised guidelines in the works that do include these other forms of testing. Earlier this year I was talking with a gentleman from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) in Washington DC and asked him when he thought these guidelines would become the law. He just kind of laughed and said when you have bureaucracy and lobbying efforts at work, it’s anyone’s guess.

Even though DrugWipe is not currently sanctioned under DOT guidelines, trucking companies, including one of the largest trucking firms in the nation, are turning to DrugWipe to fill in the gaps of the DOT drug testing programs. It provides companies, like the one I talked with today, a way to be proactive, establish reasonable cause for DOT urine testing, and more effectively mitigate their risks from drug using drivers.

Any type of testing, other than the DOT urine test, can be a tough sell in the transportation industry. Many trucking companies do the minimum testing required under the DOT guidelines. One main factor is cost. Another main factor is that currently there’s a big driver shortage in the industry. It’s very hard to replace drivers these days. If you have to let one go due to a drug problem (or any other reason, for that matter), the truck they were driving could be sitting idle on the lot for a while. That means lost revenue. Some companies would rather have those trucks on the road and take the chance that a drug using driver won’t get into a serious accident.

I hope the revised DOT guidelines will be enacted soon so transportation companies will be given the freedom to use the testing procedure(s) they think will provide them with the best results in the most cost-effective way possible.

Oh, one last thing – GO CARDINALS!!!!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Is Drug Testing a Waste of Money?

Employers large and small together spend millions upon millions of dollars each year on their drug testing programs. Do the rewards justify the costs?

You could make a very good argument that, yes, they do. Drug activity in the workplace is a major drain on business. It affects productivity, insurance costs, workplace theft, safety, absenteeism and more (click here for some specifics). There are also negative affects on things that can’t be so easily measured such as worker morale, customer service, quality, and damage to a company’s reputation.

A well-crafted drug testing program provides a deterrent to drug use and does help reduce the amount of drug use in the workplace. It also helps employers find the employees who are using drugs and either get them help through some sort of an employee assistance program or get rid of them. Reducing and eliminating drugs from the workplace does make a difference. Many companies have seen great benefits from drug testing and there are studies showing how effective they can be.

However, even with a well-crafted, well-implemented drug testing program there is a tremendous amount of waste. With the traditional urine, hair, and blood testing you are testing a lot more people (through random tests and pre-employment screens) than need be. It's taking a needle in the haystack approach. Essentially you're doing something you don't need 90% of the time (since government statistics indicate about 10% of the workforce uses drugs). If only 10% of your workforce needed to wear hardhats, would you buy a hardhat for everyone in the company? Would you buy the right number of hardhats but then hand them out randomly hoping that the employees who need them, get them? No, of course not. That’s a big waste of time and money!

With DrugWipe, you are finding the people who are actively impaired on the job – not those who use drugs recreationally on the weekends. DrugWipe surface assessments lead you right to the people who have the most impact on your company’s safety, security, and bottom line profits. This way you're basically eliminating the waste of the traditional tests and focusing attention and resources on the problem, not just taking a stab in the dark. It simplifies the process and makes drug testing much more efficient.

How much money could you be wasting on your drug testing program?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Potato Test

I learned about this fascinating little tidbit while presenting at a meeting of the Methamphetamine Action Coalition (MAC) in Jefferson County a few months ago. Meth production is a huge problem in Jefferson County. It’s a largely rural county and two major interstates (I-55 and I-44) meet there, making it an ideal location for meth production and distribution. The MAC is a group of local agencies that's trying to educate the public about the hazards of meth and lower the rates of meth use in Jefferson County.

One of the other presenters that day was from the Jefferson County Sherriff’s Department. He talked about the “Potato Test” method of detecting meth production in a home, apartment, car, etc.

Here’s how the test works:

  1. Get a potato
  2. Cut it in half
  3. Wipe the inside of the potato on the wall or other solid surfaces
  4. Wait a few minutes
  5. If the potato turns blue, it indicates that meth contamination is present

When I heard this I thought that pretty much eliminated the need for DrugWipe for Meth Lab ID purposes (which was the whole reason I was invited to talk to this group in the first place!). But there is a caveat with the Potato Test.

There are two main techniques used to manufacture meth. One is the Nazi Method. This was developed in Germany during World War II and was given to Nazi troops as stimulants during the war (it was supposedly used by a few other countries as well). This method uses lithium and anhydrous ammonia to manufacture the meth. It is the method of manufacturing meth that produces the greatest odor.

The other method is the Red-P method. This method uses iodine and red phosphorus to make meth. This method produces the red stains on carpets and walls that are one of the key tell-tale signs of meth production.

The Potato Test will only work in identifying meth production involving the Red-P method. It's because of the iodine. Iodine gets absorbed into the walls during the Red-P production process. If a potato is rubbed against the wall, a reaction occurs with the iodine which turns the potato blue.

My understanding is that the Nazi and Red-P methods are both equally common, at least here in Missouri. By using the Potato Test, you run the risk of not detecting the presence of contamination from a meth lab about half the time.

So, as it turns out, we don’t have to worry about competition from potato farmers as we market DrugWipe as a way to identify meth production sites!

Shake and Bake

A lot of people I talk to assume that the signs that a home or apartment has been used in the production of meth are readily apparent. That’s not true.

Some of the signs of methamphetamine production are obvious:

  • Strong smells (similar to cat urine, ammonia)
  • Excessive trash that includes antifreeze containers, red stained coffee filters, and starter fluid cans
  • Windows blacked out and reinforced doors
  • Signs of trip wires, security cameras, or other booby traps that are set to alert the people making Meth that someone is approaching (meth users are HIGHLY paranoid)

There are a number of ways to manufacture meth that don’t leave behind these tell-tale signs. The most amazing, and scary, to me is the so-called Shake and Bake method.

Basically, all the ingredients needed to make Meth are dumped into a 2L soda bottle. Now keep in mind these are highly volatile, explosive materials being combined here! Once everything is dumped in the bottle the next step is to shake the bottle to mix all the ingredients, throw it, and RUN LIKE HELL! (It kind of sounds to me like holding a stick of dynamite in your hands and lighting the fuse. All in the name of getting high.) Within a few hours, chemistry works its wonder and you end up with the finished product.

That is, of course, as long as the whole thing doesn’t explode first.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Last Wednesday I was in Jefferson City addressing a meeting of the Missouri Housing Industry Alliance. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that having lived in Missouri for over 10 years now, this was my first trip to our state capitol.

I was invited to introduce the group to DrugWipe technology and talk about the issues of drugs in real estate. It was a great group and the presentation evolved into a lively discussion about DrugWipe, drug use/production in homes and apartments, and liabilities (gotta love the lawyers!).

When I first learned of DrugWipe, one of the first applications I thought of was for real estate. My family has always owned investment properties and I can remember going to visit building with my dad when I was younger and seeing crack pipes littering the sidewalks and alleys outside some buildings. And now living in Missouri, the Meth Lab capital of the United States, I’m acutely aware of the problems that drugs can pose to home owners, landlords, and tenants.


Most people don’t realize how toxic this stuff really is. The production of Meth creates a blizzard of toxic material that spreads into walls, carpeting, HVAC systems and more. The residue contaminates these surfaces for a long time and is very difficult to remove. Some buildings that have housed Meth labs are demolished because it would be too difficult and costly to clean up.

A story out of Texas really made the dangers of this stuff hit home with me. It’s about a DEA agent that was involved in raiding a meth lab. During the course of a day, his clothing got contaminated from being in the house that was raided. After work, he went home and played with his 6 week old child before changing his clothes and the child died from exposure to the toxic residue.

I’ve run into a lot of people over the past year who are quite concerned about Meth lab contamination. I remember talking to a police officer from Franklin County, Missouri that built a new home for his young family rather than buy an existing home because of fears over Meth contamination. I’ve talked to people in the medical profession who’ve had patients with “mystery illnesses” that turn out to be caused by exposure to Meth contamination in the home or apartment they recently moved into.

DrugWipe could be a great tool to help people quickly determine if that house or apartment they are looking at may be contaminated from a previous Meth lab. In fact, we’re talking to home inspectors about offering this service. They offer testing for things like radon and mold that people are concerned about – why not Meth?

The main reason why not is concern over liabilities. If you know there’s a problem then you have to do something about it. In St. Louis now there’s a line on the Seller’s Disclosure statement dealing with Meth labs. You have to check a box certifying that the production of methamphetamines has never occurred in the property. If a realtor or property owner is in the dark about whether meth production previously took place in a property or not, they don’t have to disclose anything. I can fully understand the “ignorance is bliss” argument. Not knowing provides a level of safety in some perverse way. Or does it?

Check out this recent story out of Utah. Remember the Osmonds? No, not the Osbornes, the other musical family, the Osmonds - Donny and Marie. Their family owns a real estate company in Utah. Recently a young couple bought a house through the Osmond’s real estate company. It turns out the house used to house a Meth Lab. The couple suffered a wide range of ailments due to the lingering contamination and has had to move out of the house. They also had to throw out all their clothes and many of their personal effects (a piano, an heirloom rug, etc.) because they were all contaminated from the Meth residue. They are now suing the Osmond’s real estate company for $200,000. They want to negate the contract and get their money back for the house and their personal property.

Do they deserve it? Should the realtor be held liable whether they knew about the Meth lab or not? Should realtors be required to do more homework on a property to uncover past problems like a Meth lab before listing it? Who else could be held liable? The Seller? A home inspector?

If this couple wins, the reverberations will echo throughout the real estate community. It will eliminate the “ignorance is bliss” argument because a realtor could now be sued for not knowing. It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds.

Meth is just one issue that those in real estate face when it comes to drugs. I’ll discuss some of the others in the coming days.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Earlier this week we exhibited at the 3rd Annual Greater St. Louis Safety and Health Conference. It's put on by a topnotch organization, the Safety Council of Greater St. Louis. The Safety Council's Director is Leslie Foran who is a passionate, energetic, hardworking leader who, along with her wonderful staff, is dedicated to improving the safety of all our lives here in the St. Louis area. They offer a number of low-cost and free programs and I'd recommend checking out their web site to see what they offer.

The conference was a blast! We met a lot of people involved in safety with companies big and small. We got a ton of those “Wow, you can really do that?” responses I wrote about last week. On a couple of occasions we’d be talking with one person from a company and they would go find their boss or a co-worker and bring them back to see DrugWipe for themselves. Hopefully we’ll be able to help a lot of them out in trying to get drugs out of their workplace.

Attendees who stopped by our booth shared a lot of stories about all the trouble that drug use in the workplace causes them. One man told us that his company had an employee die this year due to an accident in which drugs were involved. Another told us that they rounded up about 20 employees a few weeks ago for a random drug test and 80% of them tested positive!

I don’t think many people realize how prevalent drugs are in the workplace. At least I didn’t until we started IDS last year. It’s really opened my eyes to what’ going on out there. We’ve tested companies with as few as 5 employees and come back with positive results for cocaine and marijuana.

And the impact of drug use on worker’s safety is huge. Government statistics indicate that drug using employees are 3.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident and 5 times more likely to file a Workers’ Comp claim. The government also estimates that 38% - 50% of Worker’s Comp claims are related to substance abuse. Bill and I have both talked with a number of people in the insurance industry who say that’s pretty conservative and it’s probably more like 50% - 65%.

In Missouri, the liability of an employer as related to substance abuse and Workers’ Comp changed considerably last August when a new Worker’s Comp law went into affect.

The section of the law related to substance abuse is Section 287.120. Provision 287.120.6 states:

Where the employee fails to obey any rule or policy adopted by the employer related to a drug-free workplace or the use of alcohol or nonprescribed controlled drugs in the workplace, the compensation and death benefit provided for herein shall be reduced by fifty percent if the injury was sustained in conjunction with the use of alcohol or nonprescribed controlled drugs.

If, however, the use of alcohol or nonprescribed controlled drugs in violation of the employer’s rule or policy is the proximate cause of the injury, then the benefits or compensation otherwise payable under this chapter for death or disability shall be forfeited.

The lessons to take away from this:

Lesson #1: In Missouri, employers NEED to have a strong drug-free workplace policy.

Lesson #2: Drugs don’t pay! If you get yourself injured or killed on the job and it was because you were using drugs – you and your family aren’t getting any money from Workers’ Comp.

Workers’ Comp and safety are just one of many issues that are adversely impacted by drug activity in the workplace. I’ll talk about many of those other issues in the coming weeks and months.

We look forward to next year’s conference and, please, stay safe out there!!