HUNTER workers are using a range of new and sophisticated masking and detox agents to avoid detection in workplace drug tests.
A Newcastle Herald investigation has found workers in a range of industries, including drivers, machinery operators, explosive technicians, miners and contractors using the products that can be bought online or at some Hunter stores.
The products come in a range of forms, including drinks, tablets, mouthwash and capsules, and range in price from $50 to $200.
Mayfield’s Drug Test Australia general manager Tom Somerville said workplace drug and alcohol testing had ‘‘exploded’’ in the Hunter over the past two years.
The most common drug detected was cannabis, followed by opiates.
Mr Somerville said he was aware of a ‘‘range of techniques’’ used by people in an effort to avoid detection.
But ‘‘high quality’’ Australian standard test kits, as used by his firm, could detect many masking agents and synthetic cannabis.
‘‘Technology has caught up in recent months and the testing products are far more sophisticated,’’ he said.
Workers told the Herald several products were effective in passing urine tests just hours after smoking cannabis or using other illegal and synthetic drugs. Most worked within an hour and lasted for up to eight hours.
Six users said they had used readily available masking agents or detox kits to pass urine and saliva tests that they would have otherwise failed.
A Merewether man said he passed a pre-employment medical carried out by a doctor, that included a urine drug test, after smoking cannabis daily for six months.
Cannabis can be detected in urine up to a month after use.
‘‘I tested myself after using a flushing kit months before I was offered the job and it worked perfectly, so I did the same thing again and I passed,’’ he said.
But Mr Somerville said workers were ‘‘dreaming’’ if they thought masking agents or detox kits were going to ensure they passed all tests.
‘‘My understanding is these things take some time to take effect and most workers have no idea they are going to be tested when they turn up to work, it’s random,’’ he said.
‘‘They might be able to use masking agents once or twice and get lucky with some forms of testing, but they will get caught.’’
Mr Somerville said there had been a shift in recent months away from urine testing to saliva testing.
‘‘Saliva testing is used to detect [skills] impairment, while urine testing will show [a drug’s] presence,’’ he said.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union northern district president Peter Jordan said he believed many coal industry employers, one of the last industries in the Hunter to use widespread urine testing, wanted to ‘‘know what employees get up to in their own time’’.
Coal companies say testing is necessary to ensure a safe working environment. He was aware of employees being caught using masking agents or tampering with urine samples.
Mr Jordan said employees who failed one test could be targeted for testing at any time.
‘‘My view is that employers in the coal industry who use urine testing will attempt to hold onto that testing at whatever cost,’’ he said.
‘‘They will resist any attempt to implement more socially acceptable procedures like saliva testing ... We believe saliva testing can provide appropriate and sufficient information to a company in the event an employee is impaired. What you get up to in your own time, is your own business.’’