Workers using legal highs

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 09:00 29/03/2014

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More employees in New Zealand are working while under the influence of synthetic cannabis, and it is a trend that is becoming particularly common in the wider Manawatu.

Last year, 6.5 per cent of the people in the central region who failed a test by the New Zealand Drug Detection Agency had used synthetic cannabis.

A year ago the legal drug was barely a blip on the Palmerston North company's radar. Just 0.6 per cent of failed results nationally in 2012, and 0.5 per cent in the central region, were because of synthetic cannabis.

NZDDA general manager Jason Trembath said the figures showed more people were under the influence of the drug, and that more companies were cracking down on it.

"It's probably higher here in the the central region because we've begun testing for it more in the industries that we focus on here, which is oil and gas, forestry, and logistics.

"Synthetic cannabis is an $8 million a day industry now so there's more and more companies wising up to its effects."

Mr Trembath said employees who were under the influence of legal highs at work were probably not the people companies would want to hire.

"It's a mind-altering substance. While some people think it's legal and they'll be all right with it for drug testing, that's not the case. To have traces of it in your system at work is exactly the same as drinking alcohol, if not worse."

Despite the increase in synthetic cannabis use, the discovery of other types of drugs in employees is on the decline in Manawatu.

The central region had the second-lowest percentage of failed drug tests in the country behind Taupo. Just 3.9 per cent of those tested in 2013 failed, down from 5.0 per cent in 2012. Mr Trembath said that was probably because of the wider reach and sampling size that the company had in this region, which was persuading workers to stay off drugs.

The percentage of workers found with ecstasy, speed and P was higher than the national average, but cannabis detection was lower.

Higgins Group operations manager Shane Higgins said the company, which uses the NZDDA, had the occasional failure but mostly the results were nothing to be concerned about.

"Often we get people who have applied and then walk when they learn there's a drug test coming.

"We don't have too many issues with our workers failing random tests which is probably more important."

Mr Higgins said that the company's results probably reflected the trend in the region, although he could not think of any cases of synthetic cannabis use among workers.

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- Manawatu Standard

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