All schedules pertain to time, even if it is not obvious at first glance. A good example is the Schedule 1 of listed chemicals that is attached to the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW). Though this is not a time schedule, it certainly has time implications. Statistically speaking, workers using the chemicals or drugs listed on Schedule 1 are normally less productive and have higher rates of taking sick days. The problem is that the Schedule 1 lists specific chemicals by name, and the illicit drug manufacturers have figured out they can make simple formula changes and create chemical compositions that are not on the Schedule 1.
Some progress has been made to make formula changes illegal. In February 2012, the term ‘synthetic cannabinomimetics’ was added to the federal Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons Schedule 9, which lists prohibited substances. Schedule 9 now includes all known synthetic cannabinoids plus the catch-all term. Laboratory researchers have also developed urine and saliva drug tests that can detect synthetic cannabis like K2, Kronic and Spice.
Several months ago, the CEO of the NSW Minerals Council (NSWMC), Stephen Galilee, submitted a letter to Parliament House to put pressure on legislators to deal with Schedule 1 terminology changes.1 The problem boils down to the fact that illicit drug makers are staying one step ahead of the law in many drug categories.
The NSWMC wants the same approach taken with the NSW Schedule 1 that was used with Schedule 9, to make it easier for employers to manage illicit drug use in the mines. All cannabinoids would be included, and the exceptions would become drugs used for legitimate medicinal or research and training purposes .The NSWMC is right to be alarmed about the many versions of street drugs, and this is an issue that concerns all employers. The NSWMC believes that synthetic drugs should be regulated on a national basis to make it easier to stay ahead of the illegal drug makers through catch-all terminology, rather than trying to regulate illicit drugs on a state-by-state basis.
As long as Schedule 1, Schedule 9 or any other state or federal schedule names specific synthetic drugs, some of the street drugs are temporarily legal until the law catches up with the changes and the drugs get added to the schedules. The street chemists are busy developing new synthetic drugs all the time, and they mimic stimulants and dissociative drugs. The chemists are smart because they can adjust the formula slightly and create a powerful new street drug that is technically legal. The street chemists often begin their efforts by mining chemical composition information from legitimate research reports prepared by laboratories and universities.3
Asking the Right Questions
The new street drugs seem to get more powerful all the time, and that means they get more dangerous. The increasing frequency of psychotic episodes seen amongst drug users is a testament to that fact. The chemical compositions are extremely sophisticated, and the street chemists adjust the formulas as rapidly as the drugs are discovered by the law. Though a catch-all phrase could be added to the laws for all synthetic drugs, there remains a terminology problem. How do you define similar chemical compounds? How close in chemical composition does a drug have to be in order to be considered similar?
These are precisely the types of questions that NSWMC is asking Parliament to consider. In the meantime, employers must diligently continue random workplace drug testing and keep drug and alcohol testing policies relevant. It is easier for an employer than the government to adjust policy terminology to address intolerance for any and all workplace substance abuse – legal or not.
In a world where illicit drugs are manufactured on a routine basis, it is important to use only top quality screening services. Mediscreen at mediscreen.net.au/index.php?mod=services offers state-of-the-art drug and alcohol screening services to a variety of businesses working to maintain drug free workplaces.