Job-seekers' drug use a 'pandemic'

By Brendan Manning, Katee Shanks -
Drug testing in the Bay of Plenty had increased in the forestry, tourism and farming sectors. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Drug testing in the Bay of Plenty had increased in the forestry, tourism and farming sectors. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Drug use is reaching "pandemic" levels with some employers unable to fill their job vacancies because they can't find workers who can pass a drug test, says one of the region's mayors.

Kawerau mayor Malcolm Campbell says drug use needs to be addressed after learning at a recent Mayors' Taskforce meeting that local job vacancies could not be filled because employers could not find workers who could pass a drug test.

"I was listening to the owners of perhaps two of the biggest transport agencies in the Eastern Bay say there were 21 driving positions available but people who were applying for the roles could not pass the drugs test," Mr Campbell said. "Twenty-one jobs and no one is work-ready?"

New Zealand Drug Detection Agency workplace testing figures show 6784 workplace drug tests were conducted in the Bay of Plenty region last year, of which 8 per cent were "non-negative".

These results come as the Psychoactive Substances Bill has its second reading in Parliament today.

If the bill becomes law it will ban dairies, service stations and grocery stores from selling synthetic cannabis and other legal highs.

CNI (Central North Island) Forest Management managing director Stewart Hyde said all potential workers had to pass a pre-employment drug test and random on the job testing had been in place for two years.

"You don't want anyone having an accident out there.

"There's all sorts of things out in the forest, you name it ... there's just multitudes [of dangers]."

The forestry sector is one of the country's most dangerous but Mr Hyde said the company had never had an accident caused by a worker being under the influence of drugs.

Synthetic cannabis was also concerning when workers were wielding chainsaws, he said.

"Basically, because it's a legal drug it does worry us."

Drug testing in the Bay of Plenty had increased in the forestry, tourism and farming sectors, with random testing results indicating methamphetamine was an area of concern.

Cannabis continues to be the most frequent drug detected - showing up in 71 per cent of non-negative tests nationwide last year. Opiates (including codeine), methamphetamine, amphetamine, cocaine and benzodiazepines were also detected.

The New Zealand Drug Detection Agency conducted 68,561 on-site drug screening tests nationally in 2012.

Chief executive Chris Hilson said business was booming with the company already providing 95,000 tests this year. A device was brought in last October to test for synthetic cannabis but it was difficult to keep up with the constant evolution of the product.

Mr Hilson said since late 2012, 15 per cent of all workplace drug screening was for synthetic cannabis, with the figure expected to rise.

Synthetic cannabinoids could be detectable in a person's system for up to 102 days, Mr Hilson said.

This meant some employees still had the drugs in the systems on the job, many in safety-sensitive industries.

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