Drug Testing for Heroin


heroin testingHeroin is one of the most addictive substances in the world. While it is significantly less popular among drug users compared to other illicit drugs in Australia, heroin at work can still be a problem that employers have to deal with, especially since its sedative and depressant effects on users pose a significant safety risk in the workplace.

Heroin at workplace concerns, however, can now be effectively handled through a number of solutions that CEOs, HR and safety officers would do well to be proficient in.

What is Heroin?

An opioid, heroin is a highly addictive substance that is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring ingredient of the opium poppy plants. Belonging under the depressant drugs category, heroin affects the central nervous system of the body by slowing down the travel of messages between the brain and the body. Heroin has a lot of street names including smack, dope, hammer, homebake, elephant, and poison among many others.

According to the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey in Australia, 1.6% of the population aged 14 years and above reported to have used heroin at some point in their life.

Taking a closer look at heroin

Heroin has several distinct forms, such as fine white powder, small pieces of brown rock, and off-white granules. It features a bitter taste, but has no smell, and usually comes in a foil or small balloon packaging. While this drug is more commonly injected directly to the vein and absorbed into the bloodstream, it can also be smoked and snorted. Some people even prefer adding it to marijuana or tobacco cigarettes for stronger effect.

Effects of heroin in the body

After the first consumption of heroin, the short-term effects can be recognised immediately but will also disappear within a couple of hours. These immediate and short-term effects include the feeling or sense euphoria or “rush”, warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth and heavy extremities, wakeful and drowsy state, clouded mental functions, vomiting and constipation, and decreased breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure among many others.

Although heroin is relatively non-toxic to the body, frequent use and consumption in large dosages can bring about long-term side effects, including menstrual irregularity and infertility in women, loss of sex drive in men, cognitive impairment and memory problems, increased feeling of sadness, and frequent nausea and vomiting. Chronic heroin abuse can also expose blood vessels and heart valves to bacterial infections, collapse or scar veins, trigger abscesses and other soft-tissue infections, and liver or kidney disease. Those who inject the drug and share needles with other users are also at higher risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

heroin-at-workThe Impact of Heroin at Work

Over the years, many accidents at the workplace have been blamed on workers impaired by heroin at work, resulting in property damage, injuries and deaths. Many employees involved in heavy equipment accidents and company vehicle crashes often test positive for heroin as well as other opioids, proving that heroin at work is a problem employers cannot ignore.

Aside from higher accident rates, theft, tardiness, absenteeism and productivity are other heroin at workplace concerns that arise from abuse of the drug. Costing the company even more are the Workman’s Compensation claims and the legal expenses that come when an employee involved in an incident sues the company for failure to provide them a safe workplace, among other things.

What to do About Heroin at Work

As stated earlier, there are a number of solutions for heroin at workplace concerns, and all of them are hinged on the development and implementation of a drug and alcohol policy for the workplace. One important aspect of such a policy is the inclusion of a heroin testing program, which can help determine impairment in a worker and prevent any untoward incidents in the workplace.

heroin drug testingHeroin Testing

Most workplace drug policies stipulate that any worker involved in any kind of workplace incident should undergo drug testing. In some cases, however, these policies give employers the right to exercise their option to require an employee reasonably suspected of abusing heroin to undergo heroin drug testing.

The most common heroin drug testing methods being used today are:

  • Urine tests – A simple and cost-effective method of heroin testing, urine testing can detect heroin up to three days after the last instance of use.
  • Saliva tests – This least-invasive method is also the least effective, as it can only detect heroin in the body for 12 hours after use.
  • Hair follicle testing – With its ability to detect heroin in a user’s system for up to three months after use, hair testing is considered one of the more accurate methods of testing for heroin abuse.

How to Spot Heroin Abuse in the Workplace

These are the signs and symptoms you need to watch out for if you suspect an employee abuses heroin at work:

  • Slow breathing
  • Flushed skin
  • Runny nose
  • Sudden behaviour changes and frequent mood swings
  • Changes in peer groups and social preferences
  • Existence of drug paraphernalia in the person’s belongings
  • Money troubles
  • Decreased or loss of concentration and brain functions
  • Neglect of grooming
  • Slurred speech
  • Scratching
  • Complaints of constipation

Keep in mind, however, that these signs are not in any way definitive proof that the employee is abusing heroin at work. Most of these signs and symptoms can also arise due to other medical conditions.

Developing a Comprehensive Heroin Safe Workplace Program

Establishing a well-thought out drug and alcohol policy is always a company’s best bet to protect itself against heroin at workplace concerns. With the right programmes, the education of staff about heroin and other drugs, and heroin drug testing, a drug and alcohol policy provides CEOs, HR and safety officers clear and legal guidelines that will help them efficiently deal with heroin at work. Safe Work Laboratories is more than willing to help you develop such a policy and more.

Please get in touch with us today for a confidential discussion if you need further information about heroin testing or if you want to develop a comprehensive heroin safe workplace program.

Click the button for a downloadable version of this fact sheet:Heroin Factsheet