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Testing for 'legal' drugs - roadside v workplace

Dan the Safety Man

2 min read

Jun 7

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Commonly, during road safety campaigns like Roadside Drug Testing blitzes, those defending their illegal activities will often use reductionist arguments such as, "Why don't they test for prescribed drugs?" This question is particularly pertinent in light of cases like that of R v Kelly Renee Liddicoat, who abused a significant number of prescribed drugs and tragically killed two men (though this case was not published by the District Court of Queensland, I am very familiar with it).


In Liddicoat's system were drugs including Diazepam at 670ng/mL (67 times the workplace limit), Oxazepam at 90ng/mL (9 times the workplace limit), and Temazepam at 80ng/mL (8 times the workplace limit), with Buprenorphine present but under the workplace limit. Liddicoat's case resulted in a lenient custodial sentence starting in October 2023, with parole eligibility set for 2026, effectively valuing the lives lost at about 18 months per victim. While police testing might not have completely prevented this drug addict from driving, it could have led to her being caught and having her license canceled weeks or months earlier.


Currently, police in most Australian jurisdictions only test for illicit substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and cannabis. Unlike workplace drug testing, roadside testing does not include legal drugs like amphetamines, benzodiazepines, or opioids. This discrepancy arises because these legal drugs can be prescribed by any medical practitioner registered with AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency). If police were to test for these substances, it would likely cause a significant backlog in the court system as individuals could present valid prescriptions, leading to dismissed charges.


However, cases like Liddicoat's inevitably prompt discussions about expanding drug testing protocols to include these prescribed medications. Current legislation does not forbid driving with substances like Valium or Oxycodone in your system. Instead, it prohibits driving while impaired by these drugs. The challenge lies in the fact that drugs impair individuals differently based on factors such as body mass, liver health, and drug tolerance.


In workplaces, the approach to drug testing is more comprehensive, reflecting the need to ensure safety in potentially hazardous environments. Employers often test for a broader range of substances, including prescription medications, to identify and mitigate any potential impairments that could lead to accidents or decreased productivity. This is particularly relevant in industries such as construction, mining, and transportation, where impairment can have serious consequences.


The argument for expanding roadside drug testing to include prescription medications is complex. On one hand, it could potentially prevent tragedies like the Liddicoat case by identifying drivers who are impaired by legal substances. On the other hand, it raises concerns about privacy, the practicality of enforcement, and the burden on the legal system.


Ultimately, the goal of both roadside and workplace drug testing is to enhance safety. While the contexts differ, the underlying principle remains the same: ensuring that individuals are not impaired by substances, whether legal or illegal, that could compromise their ability to function safely. As discussions about drug testing continue, it is crucial to balance the need for safety with respect for individuals' rights and the practicalities of enforcement.

Dan the Safety Man

2 min read

Jun 7

6

0

0

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