Testing It Up » November 2012

Monthly Archives: November 2012

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Drug Testing Lab Scandal Leads to the Release of 195 Inmates

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Close to 200 inmates had been released from prison and their cases were put on hold after a chemist at a Boston-based drug testing lab was accused of faking drug test results.

During a public hearing on Wednesday, Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan told lawmakers that while investigators are looking at about 34,000 cases overall, 195 individuals have been released, 79 in Boston, the PoliceOne reports.

Heffernan did not disclose the kinds of crimes the inmates had been convicted of, but she said their release doesn’t mean they have been exonerated, instead, they could be under alternative forms of supervision as they await future court hearings to resolve their cases.

Heffernan also noted that the administration is “committed to ensuring that each individual’s case is reviewed completely to ensure that justice has been administered properly.”

On Tuesday, officials said Gov. Deval Patrick has ordered a “file-by-file review” of every case handled by chemist Annie Dookhan.

Dookhan was arrested by state police in September for mishandling drug test results, forging paperwork, and mixing samples. She worked for nine years at the lab and tested more than 60,000 samples involving 34,000 defendants.

The drug testing lab, which was overseen by the Department of Public Health, has since been shut down after state police found that Dookhan failed to follow drug testing protocols. The scandal resulted to the resignation of the lab’s three officials and has thrown thousands of criminal cases into doubt. It’s testing has turned over to the state police.

David Meier, a former state prosecutor appointed by Gov. Patrick to identify cases Dookhan worked on, said on Tuesday that his team has identified about 10,000 people whose drug cases were potentially affected by the alleged misconduct.

The accused chemist is free on a $10,000 bail.

Drug Testing

University of Texas Requires Drug Testing for Nursing Students

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The UT School of Nursing will be implementing a mandatory drug screening beginning next month for students who will be taking clinical programs, one of several types of classes required in the nursing curriculum.

According to Linda Carpenter, assistant dean of the School of Nursing, the primary reason for the new policy is to ensure the safety of patients treated by students and to standardize drug testing for all students in a way that meets industry guidelines.

“The bottom line is [that the new policy] is for patient safety,” Carpenter told The Daily Texan. “You can’t have people working in health care settings, being responsible for peoples’ lives, if they are under the influence of anything.”

Starting next semester, students who will be enrolling in clinical classes will need to complete their testing between Dec. 1 and Jan. 14. The tests will be administered by the University’s approved vendor.

Students who fail the drug test will not be allowed entry into the University’s clinical classes, but they can still continue enrolment in the nursing program. Depending on individual circumstances, students may be able to wait to take a second screening or may have to show proof of treatment for substance abuse before screening again.

The new policy complies with the Health Industry Steering Committee’s latest industry standards requiring standardized drug testing for students working in Central Texas hospitals.

Substance Abuse

New Jersey Permanently Outlaws Synthetic Marijuana!

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State Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced on Nov. 26 that New Jersey’s comprehensive ban on all variants of synthetic marijuana is now permanent. That means, “K2,” “K3,” “Spice,” and all other variants of synthetic drugs are now subject to the highest level of State control, along with cocaine and heroin.

“These synthetic poisons, once offered as a so-called ‘legal high’ by shady retailers, are now permanently off the market in New Jersey – and the numbers indicate our ongoing ban has led to a decline in their reported use,” Attorney General Chiesa said in a press release. “These drugs have grown in popularity nationwide, despite their alarming and catastrophic side effects. Today they are permanently on record as being just as illegal as cocaine or heroin.”

The formal adoption of the regulation makes New Jersey the fourth U.S. state to outlaw the manufacture, distribution, sale, and possession of synthetic drugs. Violators may be subject to a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for a three- to five-year term.

Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, said: “New Jersey’s law enforcement agencies now have the tools they need to shut down the sellers of these toxic drugs, and keep them away from anyone misguided enough to use them.”

Early this year, New Jersey introduced a 270-day temporary ban on all variants of substances used to produce synthetic drugs. Over the past six months, the initiative has significantly helped reduce the number of reported cases related to synthetic marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana  are sold in convenience stores and gas stations. They have been found to cause muscle cell break down, kidney failure, seizures, tremors, anxiety, chest pain, convulsions, hallucinations, and heart palpitations.

“…the public is now fully aware that, despite colorful labels and catchy brand names, K2 and Spice are associated with dangerous side effects including seizures, hallucinations, panic attacks, and suicide,” Kanefsky added.

Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

Federal Judge Orders Tobacco Firms to Issue Corrective Statements About Smoking

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Tobacco companies are in for a tougher challenge after a federal judge ruled on Tuesday that they must publish corrective statements that say they lied about the dangers of smoking and that disclose smoking’s health effects, including the death on average of 1,200 people a day.

Judge Gladys Kessler, of United States District Court for the District of Columbia, previously wanted the industry to pay for corrective statements in various types of advertisements. But Tuesday ruling is the first time she’s laid out what the statements will say, the TIME magazine reports.

“This court made a number of explicit findings that the tobacco companies perpetuated fraud and deceived the public regarding the addictiveness of cigarettes and nicotine,” Judge Kessler said.

The judge ordered each corrective ad is to be prefaced by a statement that a federal court has concluded that the defendant tobacco companies “deliberately deceived the American public about the health effects of smoking.” Among the required statements are that smoking kills more people than murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol combined, and that “secondhand smoke kills over 3,000 Americans a year.”

The corrective statements are part of a case the government brought in 1999 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. In 2006, Kessler ruled that the country’s largest cigarette makers had for decades concealed to the consumers the dangers of smoking, and said she wanted the industry to pay for “corrective statements” in various types of ads, both broadcast and print.

Two  giant tobacco companies had confirmed learning about the court’s decision and said they were studying Kessler’s ruling, but declined to provide  further comment.

Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

People With Hyperthyroidism at Greater Risk for Common Irregular Heartbeat

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A study of more than 586,000 Danes showed that those with overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) are at increased risk for atrial fibrillation, a common cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

Between 2000 and 2010, the subjects had undergone a thyroid function blood test. During an average 5.5 years of follow-up, 3 percent of the patients were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and 53 percent of those patients were women, the HealthDay reports.

The researchers — led by Christian Selmer of Gentofte University Hospital, in Hellerup, Denmark — found that compared to patients with normal thyroid function, those with early stage hyperthyroidism had a 30 percent increased risk of atrial fibrillation, while those with high-normal thyroid function had a 12 percent increased risk.

Selmer and colleagues said their findings highlight the importance of long-term screening for atrial fibrillation in people with hyperthyroidism.

However, for Dr. Sripal Bangalore, an assistant professor in the department of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center who was not involved in the study, more studies are still needed to determine the causal association between thyroid activity and atrial fibrillation and identify the next step.

On the other hand, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, also not involved in the study, agreed with the authors that evaluating early hyperthyroidism “is essential to adequately assess the risk for atrial fibrillation [in patients] and to treat it before it becomes a cardiac issue.”

Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

Independent Panel Drafts Guidelines Recommending Americans to Undergo HIV Test

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Mention HIV test and you’re sure to get an “it’s only for HIV-infected people” kind of response. At the very least, you can’t expect a perfectly healthy person to declare “I’ve had an HIV test,” because to these days, HIV remains a sensitive topic where a lot of people are still inadequately informed.

In an effort to remove the stigma associated with HIV test, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is proposing that people ages 15 to 64 should get HIV screening at least once.

The independent panel’s draft guidelines are the latest recommendations that aim to make HIV screening simply a routine part of a checkup, something a doctor can order with as little fuss as a cholesterol test or a mammogram, the Journal Sentinel reports.

Task Force member Douglas Owens of Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System said the guidelines allow doctors to tell their patients “This is a recommended test that we believe everybody should have. We’re not singling you out in any way.”

According to a new national study, 6 out of 10 young people with HIV don’t even know they have the infection. That’s because many people don’t treat HIV test as important as any other commonly administered medical tests.

The Task Force’s proposal also recommends testing people older and younger than 15-64 if they are at increased risk of HIV infection; testing people at very high risk for HIV infection at least annually; and testing women during each pregnancy, something the task force has long recommended.

If finalized, the guidelines could extend the number of people eligible for an HIV screening without a co-pay in their doctor’s office, as part of free preventive care under the Obama administration’s health care law.

Drug Testing Substance Abuse Workplace Testing

Workplace Drug Testing vs. Marijuana Legalization in Washington State and Colorado

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It’s been weeks since recreational marijuana use has been legalized in Washington and Colorado, but until now, many are still asking how the new law will impact drug-free policies in schools and businesses. Although some universities and organizations have already issued statement that they are not going to change anything in their drug testing policy, others continue to consult with their lawyers and await for further announcement from the government.

Still, one important question remains: how do employers in these two states handle the tricky issues associated with the passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington which collide with the federal government’s drug laws?

As often stressed in various references and by the government, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 substance and the Justice Department earlier maintained their “enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.”

However, if one will review the provisions of Colorado and Washington State’s marijuana legalization measure, there was nothing that specifically address employers’ rights to drug test their employees. Colorado’s Amendment 64 states “Nothing in this section is intended to require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale or growing of marijuana in the workplace or to affect the ability of employers to have policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees.” Similarly, driving under the influence of marijuana remains prohibited.

In Washington, Costco said “Drug testing is a requirement to be hired. Nothing will change. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.”

The Boeing Company also disclosed similar stand, saying “Use of marijuana by Boeing employees is prohibited regardless of state law.”

As employers need to decide how to approach Washington and Colorado’s new marijuana laws, a legal expert, Michael W. Groebe from Foley & Lardner LLP, with experience representing employers before state and federal courts and administrative agencies offered a sound advice.

“First, employers should continue to focus on the employee’s conduct while at work. If the employee is under the influence or using marijuana at work, the new laws are unlikely to protect them from discipline,” Groebe explained. “Second, employers should remember that marijuana remains prohibited under federal law. Even with Colorado’s “Lifestyle” law that prohibits employers from disciplining employees for engaging in lawful conduct while off-duty, federal law still makes the use of marijuana unlawful.”

Additionally, if an employer requires drug testing, including the policy in the employee handbook and informing job applicants and existing employees could prevent the organization from wasting money on pre-employment drug tests.

Substance Abuse

Police Official Says OxyContin Use in Vermont Drops But Heroin Use Increases

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A state police drug investigator told The Boston Globe that efforts to make OxyContin harder to abuse is paying off in Vermont, but the downside is, drug addicts are switching to heroin.

Lieutenant Matt Birmingham, head of the Vermont Drug Task Force, said the move to reformulate the prescription pain medicine had been a big factor in reducing OxyContin abusers.

OxyContin’s manufacturer Purdue Pharma changed the formula of the drug two years ago by making it resistant to crushing and cutting, a common practice by drug addicts to enhance OxyContin’s effect.

However, the said changes prompted an increase in the number of heroin users in Vermont in the past two years, with use spreading into high school students. Birmingham said “the younger kids think they can start by snorting heroin” to avoid dirty needles.

“You can get addicted all the same,” Birmingham noted, adding that young people “generally end up injecting once they get a full-blown addiction.”

According to state Health Department’s statistics, deaths attributed in whole or in part to heroin overdoses averaged fewer than three a year from 2004 to 2010. Last year, nine deaths have been linked to heroin abuse and six deaths have been recorded this year.

Birmingham also expressed their concern with drug distribution networks becoming better organized, making it easier for banned substances to reach established networks in Vermont.

“Law enforcement realized very quickly that we cannot solve this problem at all by arresting our way out of it. It’s just not going to happen,” he said. ‘”As long as there is a demand here for heroin and opiate products, the supply will just keep coming. And you’re just not going to stop it unless you build a 20-foot fence around the state.”

Substance Abuse

California School District Drug Tests Students at Parents’ Request

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There’s nothing new about schools requiring student athletes to undergo drug testing in an effort to reduce the number of youth using banned substances. However, a Santa Clarita school district is taking a different approach with its own student drug testing policy which is believed to be the only one of its kind in the country.

The William S. Hart Union High School District has the distinction of exclusively serving parents with its Comprehensive Alcohol and Drug Reduction and Education (CADRE) program which allows parents to track the results of random drug tests of their children. Although completely voluntary, students have no choice but to submit themselves to a urine test once their parents enrol them in the program, the Los Angeles Times reports.

More than 2,000 out of the 23,000 Santa Clarita junior high and high school students participate in the free program. According to Kathy Hunter, Hart’s director of student services, they are hoping to increase that figure by 3 percent every year, but civil rights advocates are doubtful of the program’s unusual nature.

Under CADRE, urine samples are collected from random students in the program at various schools every month, and a certified drug testing company analyzes the specimens. Test results are sent to another lab for confirmation. Students’ test results are exclusively relayed to parents by phone. Those whose children test positive for drug use are referred to a licensed therapist and offered other assistance. School officials are not told of individual students’ test results.

Hunter said 63 of the 1,952 students who were enrolled in CADRE during the previous school year tested positive. Marijuana is the most common substance that was found in drug tested students, but heroin, methamphetamine, and synthetic drugs like bath salts were also detected. So far this year, there have been 35 positive test results.

Substance Abuse

Kentucky Receives Federal Funds to Boost Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Efforts

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Governor Steve Beshear disclosed on Wednesday that three federal grants amounting to $6.25 million have been awarded to Kentucky to improve its substance abuse prevention and treatment efforts over the next three years.

Lex18 reports the first grant, $2.8 million, will be used for enhancing treatment for adolescents with mental health and substance use disorders who are at imminent risk or are already involved with the juvenile justice system. The second grant, $2.7 million, targets underage drinking among those aged 12-20 and prescription drug misuse and abuse among those 12-25 years of age. And the third grant, $750,000, is allotted for enriching and intensify treatment services for clients served in the Families Moving Beyond Abuse (FMBA) program in Bullitt County.

“This funding will bolster our efforts to reduce the devastating impact of substance abuse on so many of our Kentucky families,” said Gov. Beshear. “Helping those with substance abuse issues has been an ongoing goal of my administration, one that ultimately strengthens our communities and our Commonwealth.”

The funds were awarded to the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities (DBHDID) by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). DBHDID is housed within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).