Drug Trends to Avoid Workplace & Court Mandated Drug Testing

Avoiding Mandated Drug Testing

Drug use has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Twenty years ago I was a narcotics officer working in the San Francisco Bay Area and I routinely dealt with people, most employed, dealing drugs at the street level. Back then, the drugs we came across were confined to marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, PCP and heroin. We did not have a huge pharmaceutical abuse problem and we most certainly did not see the wide spread use of designer drugs.

That all changed in the mid 1990’s when the Internet became mainstream. Once global communication and instant access to information became available to nearly everyone, people began to share recipes for new drugs and share information about legal highs.  Once this free flow of information on new drugs began to spread, new web sites and forums popped up so drug users could look for new highs.

Over the last few years, I have seen a trend among a certain segment of the drug using community. So many new legal highs are available, users started switching their drug of choice to new legal drugs. As word spread among users, people subjected to drug testing began to change their drug usage to these new drugs to avoid drug detection in workplace, DOT and court mandated drug testing.

Based on interviews from police officers from around the country and my own personal experience interacting with drug users on a daily basis, I have compiled a short list of drugs that we see drug users consume to avoid their mandated drug testing. A few drug testing programs may test for some of these drugs, but that has been the exception and not the rule.

Synthetic Cannabinoids Used to Avoid Drug Testing

Synthetic cannabinoids are a fairly new drug, having been introduced to the market in the early 2000’s. Some people initially thought that Synthetic Cannabinoids (commonly called K2 or spice) were naturally occurring herbs. This is far from true. Synthetic cannabinoids are a series of chemicals, such as HU-218 and JWH-200, that mimic some properties in cannabis (like THC). However, calling these drugs synthetic cannabinoids is a misnomer.

I have evaluated a few people under the influence of synthetic cannabinoids and found that they do not present themselves as a typical cannabis abuser would. They are, at times, non-communicative or mumbling, stumbling and hallucinating. Although you could have a psychedelic effect with some strong forms of cannabis, hallucinations brought on by synthetic cannabinoids seems to be much more intense.

Although synthetic cannabinoids are becoming illegal in some states, it still remains legal in many others. There are tests that can detect synthetic cannabinoids, but not all industries or workplaces require the test. I have run across some people that are mandated by DOT to submit to regular drug testing. They have openly admitted that they use synthetic cannabinoids so that they can get high without worrying about testing positive during a drug test.

Synthetic cannabinoids can be purchased in local head shops, liquor stores, gas stations and over the internet and cost anywhere from $8 to $30 per gram. Users smoke the substance in a marijuana pipe or in a joint or blunt. Signs and symptoms of influence include anxiety, hallucinations, vomiting, increased agitation, body temperature changes, dry mouth, bloodshot eyes, and tachycardia. Dilated pupils may also be present. Tolerance and addiction does develop over time.

There have been some notable incidents with people high on synthetic cannabinoids. One example is a man in Miami, FL was shot and killed by police after they came upon him eating the face of a man on the ground. It was initially blamed on the suspects use of bath salts. It was later determined that he was not using bath salts, but was actually using synthetic cannabinoids. There have also been a few incidents around the nation where truck drivers have caused fatal traffic collisions while under the influence of synthetic cannabinoids.

Synthetic cannabinoids are almost always sold in colorful packaging that are press lock sealed. The synthetic cannabinoids are sprayed on vegetative matter that has an appearance to cut grass that has been dried out. It does not smell like cannabis.

Bath Salts

Bath salts is a slang term for synthetic cathinones such as Mephedrone and methylenedioxypryrovalerone (MDPV). These aren’t the bath salts that you would buy at Bath and Body Works in the mall. However, synthetic cathinones do have an appearance that is similar to real bath salts like epsom salt. The packaging that bath salts are sold in are similar to ones that contain synthetic cannabinoids and cost anywhere from $20 to $50 per package. Each package contains anywhere from just under one gram to a few grams.

When people are under the influence of bath salts, they will have signs and symptoms similar to other CNS Stimulant drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine. This would include dilated pupils that have a minimal reaction to light, rapid pulse, sweating and bizarre behavior. The people I have run across under the influence of bath salts have often been difficult to deal with. Some were hallucinating and violent.

Bath salts are illegal in some states, but the penalties are weak and not as strong as traditional street drugs. An example is California, where it is illegal to sell some bath salts, but not all. Possession and consumption is still not illegal.

Synthetic cannabinoids can be purchased in local head shops, liquor stores, gas stations and over the internet and cost anywhere from $25 to $50 per packet. Users typically snort bath salts, but there have been reports of users swallowing them and injecting them.

People who use bath salts are typically current stimulant abusers who are trying to avoid arrest by switching to a drug that has less legal penalties than methamphetamine or cocaine or are trying to avoid detection in mandated drug testing programs.

Phenethylamines & Tryptamines 

Phenethylamines and Tryptamines are hallucinogenic stimulants that cause a high similar to MDMA, or Ecstasy. They have become commonplace among users seeking a new alternative high. Many of the drugs in this category are completely legal.

Some examples of these types of drugs include DMT, 2C- and 2C. Some of these drugs you may heard of, but others… maybe not so. But, they are all increasing in popularity. Users are switching to these drugs because they are easier to obtain than ever before and many drug testing programs do not test for these drugs. Now users can get high with a reduced risk of being found.

Phenethylamines and Tryptamines can be very easy to make. Two books written by Alex Shulguin, TIKHAL and PIKHAL, even outline the synthesis to make a number of these drugs. TIKHAL and PIKHAL stand for “Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved” and Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved.” Many of the drugs listed in the book, such as Methalone, are only one molecule away from MDMA (or Molly) and are completely legal. Methalone, as an example, is a schedule 1 drug federally, but many states have not caught up and have not added it to their controlled substances act. This simple omission makes them legal in that state.

These designer drugs are manufactured much like MDMA and a users high may mimic MDMA influence. This would include dilated pupils, hallucinations, rapid pulse, elevated body temperature, and hyperactivity. However, with tolerant users, signs and symptoms may be more subdued. Users will experience altered perceptions including a distortion of colors, distortion of time and space and synesthesia. Synesthesia is a transposing of the senses. Some examples would include seeing sparks come from a phone when it rings (instead of hearing the ringing sound) or smelling roses when they see a particular object.

These drugs cost the same as MDMA and are sold in much the same fashion. With the exception of psilocybin and LSD, most of these drugs come in pill form, but sometimes as a powder. The pill form can range anywhere from $5 a pill to more than $20 per pill.

How to Catch Those Skirting the System

All hope is not lost in trying to catch those trying to skirt the drug testing system. There are many companies that test for most of these drugs. As an example, Express Diagnostics International has a great on site test for Spice.

Another easy way to catch drug users who are in the workplace is to have an aggressive drug abuse and influence testing program. We teach police officers daily on how to spot people that are under the influence of a drug or who have recently been abusing drugs. This system has been court tested and is very accurate. Teaching the corporate sector the same skills has been very easy and it is non-invasive. Many of the techniques that police officers use are merely passive observation.

Drug consumption trends are changing rapidly. I have been a police officer involved in drug enforcement at the user level for 25 years. When I first started, we only had to deal with marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and PCP. Now, we have to deal with such a variety of drugs, many legal, that it is astonishing. It is imperative that we change with the public’s consumption of these drugs so we can maintain a safe working environment, safe roads and continued compliance with court mandates.



Author: Keith Graves
Keith is the 2016 Narcotics Officer of the Year for the State of California and a prior winner of the MADD California Hero Award. Keith has been a Police Officer in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1990 and has years of experience as a Narcotics Detective and a Narcotics Unit Supervisor. Keith is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292) and teaches both the DRE course and the Drug Abuse Recognition Course. Keith has also taught at the Police Academy and has developed several drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association, California POST and California Colleges. Keith has held other assignments besides narcotics including Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and 20 years as a SWAT Team member and SWAT Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses around the world about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary's College of California and a MA in Criminal Justice. Keith is the Founder and President of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.

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