If you are concerned that workers in your company might be abusing drugs or if your employees operate heavy machinery or operate in safety sensitive positions, the 7-panel drug test might be the right fit for you. It typically focuses on prescription drugs that are commonly abused, although it also includes a several controlled substances. As with any drug use, demographics can help you determine the need for testing. Workers in the construction, entertainment, recreation and food services industries, for example, have twice the national average of workers with substance abuse problems.

Substance abuse can create a host of issues for employers including a negative impact on employees' personal judgement, alertness, perception, motor coordination and even their emotional state. Workers with substance abuse disorders miss almost 50% more work days than other employees and the Surgeon General reports that substance abuse costs the U.S. economy more than $400 billion each year. A large portion of this problem is related to prescription drug use and abuse.

The drugs tested in the 7-panel test address two of the most commonly abused illicit drugs as well as some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs. The major difference between the 8-panel and 7-panel drug test is the elimination of quaaludes from testing. As this drug is seldom found in North America, this will likely not be an issue for your company.

Each drug that is screened is called a panel. While the actual drugs tested can vary, there are certain drugs that the 7-panel drug test usually addresses including:

Cocaine

Cocaine use is extremely difficult to detect in the workplace, as many of its effects and aftereffects are often attributed to normal workplace stress or exhaustion. It is a Schedule II drug in the United States. which means that, although it does have a currently accepted medical use, it has a very high potential for abuse. Drug tests can normally detect cocaine in a user's system up to four days after use, but up to eight for chronic users. The negative effects of cocaine can last far longer than the high, particularly in the workplace.

Because the initial effects of a cocaine high can induce mental clarity and increased focus and alertness there is often a mistaken belief that the drug can enhance a worker’s mental abilities. It doesn’t. These initial effects generally last only thirty minutes, after which the user will experience negative effects including depression, agitation, nervousness and fatigue. Studies have shown that cocaine users struggle with concentration, attention, decision-making and memory long after the high has disappeared. This frequently leads users to take more of it, more often, at more frequent intervals to maintain the high inevitably leading to both addiction and an increasingly negative effect on both productivity and safety at work.

The initial effects of a cocaine high include:

  • Feelings of euphoria and energy
  • Mental alertness
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia

Marijuana

Cocaine is second only to marijuana/cannabis as the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Marijuana is also gaining acceptance for relief of issues like pain and nausea. Thirty states have now legalized the use of medical marijuana and nine states plus Washington, D.C. have legalized the use of recreational marijuana. (Learn more in Medical Marijuana: The Potential Impact On Your Workplace).

Legalization is an issue for employers, as acceptance doesn’t imply safety. High doses of marijuana can induce paranoia, hallucinations and anxiety and these effects can last up to 24 hours. In the workplace, marijuana can also:

  • Impair concentration
  • Affect the ability to think and make decisions
  • Reduce reaction time
  • Affect coordination

These all pose significant risk for positions that include driving or cognitive tasks, as the effects can last for up to three or four hours. Impairment varies widely by individual tolerance level and also between occasional and long-term users. There is additional evidence that acute use impairs learning, memory and attention.

PCP

A popular drug in the 1970s, phencyclidine (PCP) currently has no legal use. It is sometimes combined with other drugs including marijuana. In 2012 more than 12 million in the United States admitted to having had PCP at least once.

PCP’s real threat, however, lies not in the numbers of people who are using it but in its dangerous and mind-altering effects. In the workplace these effects can be extremely serious. Even in moderate amounts, PCP can cause users to feel a misplaced sense of strength and invulnerability and consequently put themselves and others at risk. These effects usually last 4-8 hours but can last up to 48 hours.

PCP has numerous other effects that include:

  • Numbness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis

PCP is highly addictive and over the long-term users can experience memory loss, depression and problems with both speech and learning.

Amphetamines

Amphetamines, including methamphetamines, are stimulants that speed up the central nervous system. Although opioids are dominating the headlines, methamphetamines in particular are a huge problem, particularly in states like Oklahoma. Border seizures of the drug have increased ten-fold, from 8,900 pounds in 2010 to 82,000 pounds in just the first 8 months of 2018.

The effects of amphetamines can be wide ranging. They can give one person a sense of euphoria and invincibility, make another nervous and tense and make another openly hostile and aggressive. Consequently, it's difficult to predict exactly how it may impact your workers — but it definitely has a serious impact. In the workplace amphetamine abuse can lead to a host of issues including:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of concern for serious matters
  • Exhaustion, particularly at the beginning of the work week
  • Aggressive and risky behavior while driving or operating machinery
  • Restless and excessively excitable behavior with coworkers or customers
  • Aggression or hostility directed to coworkers or customers
  • Paranoia or delusions

Basic Opiates

Opiate is a term originally used to describe naturally occurring drugs, known as alkaloids, that are made from the opium poppy plant. Basic opiates include opium, codeine, heroin and morphine. These drugs have both analgesic (painkilling) and narcotic effects.

Even legal opiates are highly addictive and susceptible to abuse. (Learn more in Managing Opioids In The Workplace). They are the number one prescription per volume for most employer groups and, even when used as prescribed, have the potential to cause impairment and increase workplace accidents, errors and injuries. Their use is so prevalent in parts of the country that a recent National Safety Council survey reported that 7 out of 10 human resources officials say their organization has felt the effects of the opioid crisis including decreases in productivity and an increase in absenteeism and incidents. Employees abusing opiates may also use other drugs to create a functional high. Some of the additional effects of opiate misuse include:

  • Negative effects on judgement, perception and awareness
  • Aftereffects such as hangover or withdrawal
  • Absenteeism, illness and injury
  • Becoming involved in illegal activities such as fraud or selling to other employees
  • Stress and psychological problems for those with family members or friends who abuse opiates

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, including drugs such as Valium and Xanax, work in the central nervous system to dull stimuli and tend to have a calming effect on the user. They are prescribed for a variety of conditions including alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, panic disorder and sleep disorders.

Even when used as prescribed, these drugs tend to induce drowsiness or dizziness, making it dangerous for users to drive or operate machinery. They also impact an individual’s ability to function physically and socially. Approximately 80% of benzodiazepine abuse involves another substance, such as opioids or alcohol, which greatly increase the chance of overdose. At work, benzodiazepine abusers may also exhibit:

  • Slow reaction time
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Unsteadiness
  • Vision problems

Occasionally users can become agitated or anxious, develop hallucinations or exhibit bizarre behaviors.

Barbiturates

Barbiturates are a depressant that have been largely replaced by benzodiazepines and are currently used strictly for conditions that do not respond to other drugs. Barbiturates initially make the user feel happy, relaxed and less inhibited, but quickly become dangerous if misused.

Signs of abuse to look for in the workplace include effects that are similar to alcohol intoxication. This category is particularly dangerous because tolerance builds quickly and it is very easy to become addicted. Additional side effects associated of prescribed barbiturate use include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Poor judgement

Testing in the Workplace

Your employee has a right to take prescribed medication, but you also have an obligation to protect your workplace, workers and the public. The 7-panel drug test will allow you to identify whether your employees are abusing prescription drugs or exceeding safe doses of prescribed drugs. Your Medical Review Officer (MRO) will follow up on any negative test results and ensure that detected drugs were both legally prescribed and that the prescribing physician affirms that your employee can continue to do their work safely.