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When Employees Abuse Marijuana and Alcohol in Times of High Anxiety

Guest Blog Post by Lori Lal
Senior Consultant for National Drug Screening, Inc

Substance Abuse May Rise During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In these uncertain and anxious times amidst a global pandemic, individuals with addiction issues are suddenly dealing with sobriety issues by themselves without their usual support networks which may have fallen by the wayside given social distancing requirements. As the world has come to a screeching halt and self-isolation and boredom has set in, maintaining sobriety is, unfortunately, a struggle for some. Day-to-day stresses compounded with fear of the unknown are ramping up anxiety higher than usual. As a result, more individuals might be more likely to use and abuse drugs such as marijuana as well as alcohol. In such times, it is even more important to drug-test those required by law, those who are deemed “essential” employees, and those who are part of a drug-free workplace. National Drug Screening is here to help and has many different substance abuse panels to choose from.

Nearly 188 million people globally use marijuana, making it the single most-used illicit substance according to the latest World Drug Report. This is equivalent to nearly 4% of the global population. And an Associated Press article dated April 1, 2020 indicates that Americans are drinking more alcohol than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, sales of spirits such as tequila, gin and pre-mixed cocktails jumped 75% compared to the same period last year. Wine sales are up 66% and beer sales foamed up 42%. And it appears people are procuring more and more alcohol while practicing social distancing: online alcohol sales are up 243%. See https://6abc.com/health/booze-buying-surges-5525-as-people-shelter-in-place-nielsen-report-says/6068661/

While alcohol laws are somewhat uniform around the country, there are often major discrepancies regarding marijuana usage between Federal and State laws, between states, and often between cities. For example, an employee that resides in a state with legalized medical or recreational marijuana use, may find it an unpleasant surprise to learn that he or she is still committing a federal crime by possessing, buying, or selling marijuana. Despite liberalization of many state laws across the country, federal law still treats marijuana as a controlled substance, Schedule I drug – just like cocaine, methamphetamines or heroin.

This conflict between state and federal law creates interesting situations where one can be charged with a federal crime for activities that are allowed by one’s home state, although federal agencies have admittedly been mostly reluctant to do so. And even within each state, many cities have developed their own local ordinances regarding medical marijuana dispensaries and cannabis-related uses and prohibited activities. One such scenario illustrating some of these differences might be that marijuana would be legal for recreational and medicinal use, sale, cultivating and distribution within a state. However, a local city ordinance might only allow the sale of marijuana for medicinal use and not for recreational use. And medicinal use might require a doctor’s note or city-approved medical marijuana certificate to purchase from a local licensed distributor.

With this convoluted backdrop, employers must continue to drug test at this time and employers must make a “reasonable effort” to locate needed resources to continue said testing. But it might be incumbent upon and in the employer’s own interest in maintaining a safer work environment to seek to help their employees by providing information on the limited resources and options available to help with sobriety – including creative options such as telecommuting whenever possible, suggestions for contacting supportive family members, friends, religious groups, local rehabilitation facilities or even local chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  Employers may also wish to advise employees to access these types of resources through telephone, emails, video conferencing, Skype, Zoom and other types of similar platforms.

Despite these difficult and uncertain times, the professional full-service and dedicated team at National Drug Screening stand ready and able to assist employers with all of their drug and alcohol testing needs. National Drug Screening offers a variety of drug and alcohol testing options:

See DOT Guidance
See availability for drug & alcohol testing