Toxicology – a look back in time

British Science Week is a good week to look at the science of Toxicology.  Toxicology is the branch of science that relates to poisons. Many ancient texts were written about plant toxins and the use of poisons, but it [more]

The effects of recreational drugs on the heart

As the month of love ends, it’s a good time to think about the effects that recreational drugs have on the heart. We tend to focus more often on the immediate effects of recreational drug use and the risks that those [more]

Winter ills – the risks to workplace safety

Many of us have been struggling of late with coughs and colds, and some even with flu. We are fortunate that we have access to a wide range of over-the-counter preparations to help alleviate the symptoms caused by these [more]

Coping with alcohol dependence at Christmas

As we work to support individuals in the Family Court system who have alcohol dependence issues, it’s interesting to read several recent articles about the challenges those with alcohol dependence face at [more]

How much could a drug and alcohol policy be worth to your business?

With the cost of replacing a member of staff in the region of £30,000, many employers see that ensuring employee wellbeing is a worthwhile area in which to invest. This helps to enhance employee retention and create a [more]

Testing and Treatment – Partners in Recovery

The UK government’s Drug Strategy 2017 published in July includes an objective focused on supporting those with a drug dependence at all stages of their recovery. The strategy highlights the role that drug testing plays in [more]

Testing and Treatment – Partners in Recovery

The UK government’s Drug Strategy 2017 published in July includes an objective focused on supporting those with a drug dependence at all stages of their recovery. The strategy highlights the role that drug testing plays in supporting recovery, particularly in two areas. In the report, drug testing on arrest is indicated as a means of referring offenders into treatment at an early stage. The appropriate use of regular testing is also highlighted as one of the tools that treatment providers can use to help build recovery.

After reading the strategy document I was reflecting on my experience of how the drug testing we provide supports treatment professionals in their efforts to guide individuals through recovery, and what information it provides in addition to their own observations? I often find that a testing result that detects the presence of a drug or its metabolite (a positive result) provides the clearest information. It can support a treatment professional’s own observations of a client when they present, or can indicate that a client who is prescribed a substitution therapy is taking their prescribed medication.

I have, however seen instances where a positive result can have a more challenging impact on both the professional and their client. These are usually instances where a client was thought to be progressing well with their treatment and a positive result comes as a bit of a reality check to all involved. Quite often the question will come back, ‘are you sure it’s positive?’. A confirmed positive result cannot be argued with. The evidence stands up for itself. A drug or metabolite has been detected in the sample indicating recent use of the drug. A test result is limited to just being able to provide this information. It can’t help in answering the questions that inevitably follow between professional and client about the circumstances of the recent drug use, but I hope that it does go some way to opening an honest dialogue to deal with ongoing issues.

A surprising negative result often muddies the waters more than a positive result. It can be very frustrating when you are looking for evidence, but don’t find anything. A negative result is simply that – the lack of evidence of drug use. It doesn’t prove that drugs haven’t been taken (since you can’t prove a negative), but it doesn’t provide evidence that they have been taken. I’ve seen this happen where it seems clear that the client has been using drugs, but none have been detected in their sample, or they are undergoing supervised consumption at a local pharmacy of their substitution therapy medication. It is often in these situations where the drug treatment professional must rely on their own judgement, since there is no supporting information from the drug test result. Discussion with the drug worker about the testing strategy has been useful in these situations, and adjustments in the timing and frequency of testing has often helped in providing them with the positive result they need on future occasions to support their own conclusions.

Peter Akrill
Senior Toxicologist

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How do Drugs Get into Hair?

Have you ever wondered how we can even test for drugs in hair? Here we explain how this is possible using some simple diagrams.

Hair growth explained

Hair is produced by follicles that lie below the skin and it takes about two weeks for the hair to emerge above the surface of the skin. On average head hair grows at approximately 1cm per month with the hair closest to the scalp being the most recent growth.

Drugs Incorporation into Hair

Drugs are Incorporated into the Hair

Occasional Drug Use - How does it look in hair?

Habitual Drug Use - How does it look in hair?

As you can see by looking at the last two diagrams there is a difference in the types of analysis that the laboratory can undertake to show that drugs have been used, if there are trends in use, or if there are even drugs in the hair at all.

If you have any questions about how drugs are incorporated into hair please contact our Technical Information Group via

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The Dangers of Ketamine for Seafarers

The Dangers of Ketamine for Seafarers

The effects and risks of ketamine to seafarers can be significant, even when taken in low doses, and can pose a dangerous risk to your vessels.

Did you know?

In some Asian regions ketamine users account for over 30% of all drug users – it does not just stop there; ketamine use has been reported in 62 countries and territories overall.

So what is Ketamine?

It is an anaesthetic used for medical and veterinary purposes but it is also taken illicitly in tablet form, in alcoholic drinks, by injection or by smoking it with cannabis.

  • The effects of taking ketamine may include feeling an altered state of consciousness, nausea, numbness, depression, amnesia, hallucinations, vomiting, increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • The risks of taking ketamine include collapse, coma and severe urological problems.

Should you consider adding ketamine to your testing panel?

Register your interest now >

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Helping Seafarers Understand How Much Alcohol They Consume

Helping Seafarers Understand How Much Alcohol They Consume

You may have noticed we mention ‘units of alcohol’ within our literature or on our website and wondered what this was.

What are Units of Alcohol?

In the UK a unit of alcohol is a measure used to show what the alcoholic content of a drink including alcohol is. This was put in place to help individuals easily understand how much alcohol they are consuming.

Do other countries use ‘units’ also?

Some other countries use the term ‘standard drink’ for the same purposes.  A standard drink looks at a fixed amount of pure alcohol and varies depending on volume and alcohol concentration. This varies from country to country but is in use in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United States of America.

How can I educate my crews?

If this information could be relevant to your crews, consider ordering our booklets “Alcohol and Drugs: The Facts, Useful facts for seafarers” which are great reference guides.

Contact us to discuss via

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Seven Considerations When Writing a Maritime Drug and Alcohol Policy


Writing a Drug and Alcohol Policy for a Maritime Organisation seems simple right? This is not always the case; however it can be simplified if you consider all of the relevant variables right from the beginning.

Vessels and ships are very different from other workplaces in that they are mobile so need to take international legislation/guidelines into account, whilst also being a home and workplace.

Our Policy experts have years of experience helping our customers with their Drug and Alcohol Policies, from reviewing them, advising on content or helping to write a Policy from scratch – here’s an opportunity to take advantage of their considerable experience and advice on the factors to consider.

  1. Form a working group

Involving key stakeholders right at the beginning of the process has multiple benefits:

  • It creates a good working relationship.
  • It helps unions or working groups understand the policy.
  • Input helps with buy-in as concerns can be raised and addressed.
  1. Defining key terms

The wording used within a Drug and Alcohol Policy is important and needs to be thoroughly considered. Defining key terms, such as ‘misuse’, ‘drugs’ and ‘positive result’, to name a few, is necessary because it is part of setting the ground rules in a clear manner. Once agreed all key terms should be listed upfront and used consistently throughout the policy.

Something else to take into account is distinguishing between impairment due to the inappropriate use of drugs and/or alcohol, and dependency or personal problems resulting from the use of these substances, as these terms can be reflected in Employment Law concepts of ‘conduct’ and ‘capability’.

Finally differentiating between ‘drugs’ and ‘alcohol’ is also significant due to the accepted nature of blood alcohol levels and impairment for alcohol, where as a positive drug test shows use, but not the when, where or if the Seafarer was impaired at the time of testing.

  1. Setting the rules

This is essential so Seafarers know exactly what is expected of them. It’s important to be fair and reasonable, to set these rules following staff consultation, to be clear and to ensure they are communicated to all marine staff and finally that they will be applied reasonably and consistently.

  1. Using a drug and alcohol testing programme

Testing for drugs and alcohol is a tool that has enormous value as a deterrent, and provides a visible record of the success of a policy. Include details around which Seafarers will be tested, when they will be tested and how they will be tested. It must be clear what the consequences of positive test results, refusals to take tests, or the deliberate interference with test procedures will be and any other actions which will be considered a breach of policy, resulting in disciplinary action outside of testing.

  1. Educating your employees

As the use of drugs and alcohol is effectively a lifestyle choice, education plays a key role in successfully introducing and implementing a Drug and Alcohol Policy. Topics to cover include both the purpose of a policy and the health and safety factors Seafarers should consider. Those that implement the policy should also be confident in the procedures; their education is a key cornerstone to consider.

  1. Providing support for your employees

Supporting staff that either come forward or are identified from the drug and alcohol testing programme to be problem users is something to be prepared for. Consider what information about the types of help is available, are they given advice about taking medicines at work and can they access an employee assistance programme.

  1. Legislation to consider

There could potentially be various legislations that you may need to consider, including local, international and industry related legislation – this is going to be specific to each Maritime Organisation. Here are a few Maritime related codes, guidelines or requirements to consider:

  • IMO International Safety Management Code (ISM Code)
  • IMO International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Regulations
  • Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) Drug and Alcohol Guidelines
  • Exxon Mobil Tanker Time Charter Party
  • United States Coast Guard (USCG) requirements for the drug and alcohol testing regulations in Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 4 and 16

Now you know the seven considerations why not visit our website to download our free ‘Policy Guidance Notes’ and learn more about what our Drug and Alcohol Policy Experts can do for you.

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Posted in Alcohol Testing, Drug Testing, General News, Maritime Solutions | Leave a comment