End of COVID-19 restrictions could be start of drug flood

The change that requires those who want to purchase painkillers containing codeine to see a doctor for a prescription, instead of purchasing over the counter, appears to have resulted in a reduction in the number of positive workplace drug testing results for opiates. Codeine is an opioid drug that is closely related to morphine, and other medications, as well as the illicit drug heroin. The codeine change, which was introduced in Australia on 1 February this year, was brought in to reduce the harm caused by overuse and abuse of codeine specifically and opiates in general. Another key reason for the change was the lack of evidence to show that codeine medications are any more effective for pain relief, colds, flus and other ailments than similar medications that don’t have the same harmful effects as codeine. As we’ve mentioned in the past in our blog, the use of codeine medications can result in positive workplace drug testing results. This is particularly the case when the drug is taken above recommended dosages, either inadvertently or deliberately. So, has the change reduced the number of positive opiate results? In short, yes. Integrity Sampling has compared workplace drug testing results from testing carried out in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania in specific industries between April and August 2017, against the same period and involving the same industries in 2018. The significance of this period is that it is the traditional cold and flu season and is the period when opiate positive results have usually risen. While the sample size is relatively small (less than 5000) the results show that compared to 68 positive results for opiates during the April – August period in 2017, there were only 37 in 2018. That’s a significant reduction of around 46 per cent. During the same periods, cannabis and methamphetamine positives rose (46 positives in 2017 compared with 56 in 2018 for cannabis, and 56 positives in 2017 compared with 79 in 2018 for methamphetamines. As mentioned, the sample size is small and we’d like to see results in subsequent years before making any ground-breaking statements, but it is none-the-less an important drop and a positive step forward.

An article on LADBIBLE says there is one good thing about COVID-19 restrictions; it’s been keeping potentially deadly drugs out of Australia.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that when the restrictions ease there may be a flood of drugs onto the Australian market and some of the drugs could wreak havoc.

There are reports that drug manufacturers in the Netherlands have been creating MDMA (ecstasy) that is between two to five times stronger than normal. According to the article: “Drug testing being done in Amsterdam shows some of the product being concocted in labs are coming back as 97 per cent pure. That would obviously downgrade as it would be cut and refined by the time it came to Australia, but that is still very high.”

It’s not just the strength of the drugs that is cause for concern. Believe it or not, the fact that many people haven’t had access to MDMA is also worrying. That’s because it may have lead to a reduction in the tolerance for MDMA. If people then take the drug – particularly the stronger MDMA – they could be susceptible to overdose and potentially death.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a spike in deaths in Australia,” UK drug charity Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s Steve Rolles warned in the article. “Because of the COVID lockdown and the closure of nightclubs there has been a stockpile of MDMA.

“People have carried on making the drugs in the Netherlands. There is potentially going to be a fall in price.”

See LADBIBLE for the full article.

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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