Workforce testing shows rise in cocaine, meth use across Hawaii

Workforce testing shows rise in cocaine, meth use across Hawaii
( Image: Hawaii News Now )
( Image: Hawaii News Now )

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last year, Diagnostic Laboratory Services tested about 40,000 urine samples from Hawaii workers and job applicants – and the results showed a year-to-year increase in positive tests for a pair of dangerous drugs.

Cocaine use was up 67 percent while Amphetamine use increased 57 percent.

But even though the lab reported a higher percentage of samples that tested positive for cocaine and crystal methamphetamine, one of the facility's top researchers says there's no reason to panic because the sample size is considered relatively small.

"I would look at it as a trend, but don't lose sleep over it," said Carl Linden, DLS Scientific Director of Toxicology. "It's not the crystal meth epidemic in the 1990s."

John Sherman of Ku Aloha Ola Mau Drug Treatment and Recovery warns that even small increases are troubling. He estimates about 15,000 people in Hawaii are hooked on illegal drugs.

"It's probably flowing over into the workforce because withdrawals happen. To keep that withdrawal from happening, people have to take it. They work also, and they end up taking it at work," he said.

Last year's urine samples showed an uptick in the presence of pot around the time medical marijuana dispensaries opened, but those numbers tailed off at the end of the year.

"It's something to watch," Linden said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we see a general trend up as the laws are being eased, in terms of marijuana but also the public perception. There's a shift as well."

Sherman says increases in workforce drug use, even small ones, underscore the need to understand drug dependency in order to break it.

"We have to really fight stigma," he said. "The community, I think everybody, wants it solved. But I think if we start saying 'them' and 'us,' then we alienate people."

As for the drugs in the center of the opioid epidemic? Hawaii state law forbids the reporting of Hydrocodone and Oxycodone found in workplace urine tests.

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