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Different body types metabolize drugs differently

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at 8:14 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at 8:29 p.m.

TOPEKA A new proposal that would require drug tests for a portion of Kansans getting welfare and unemployment benefits may be more likely to cut off taxpayer assistance to overweight marijuana users than those who use highly-addictive narcotics like methamphetamine.

That’s because marijuana, now legal for medical and recreational use in some states, clings to fat cells and is detectable for longer periods of time than more dangerous drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine that typically disappear after a couple days.

Tests, such as those used by the Department of Transportation, usually look for only marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines (meth, speed), phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust) and opiates (heroin, painkillers).

Different body types metabolize those substances differently.

A review of detection charts provided by two labs, an interview with lab employees, who asked not to be named, and a fact sheet from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show how long different types of drugs can be detected in someone’s system.

For example, a cocaine user can typically pass a standard urine test after being clean for about two to four days, although an extreme binge is detectable for up to 10 days. A meth user can often pass after not using for two days.

Meanwhile, an occasional pot smoker typically fails tests if they’ve smoked in the past three days and heavy smokers may test positive for about three weeks after they’ve quit.

Since marijuana is one of the only common illegal substances that cling to fat cells, it’s detectable in overweight users longer than it is in skinny users, several studies say.

Some hallucinogenic drugs, including mushrooms and LSD, usually aren’t tested for.

Meanwhile, an entire industry has emerged promising to flush detectable levels of illegal substances out of people’s bodies before being screened. Those have mixed results.

Common lab tests can identify fake urine. And technicians can differentiate between meth and commonly abused prescription drugs that are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, such as Adderall, and between prescription painkillers and illegal opiates.

Once detected, labs wary of violating privacy laws contact physicians who then contact people being tested to release records showing they were prescribed the detected prescription drug.

That’s intended to prevent employers from learning about applicant’s medical issues while catching folks who abuse prescriptions.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, said he’s most interested in discovering and treating meth users because the highly-addictive drug remains common in southeast Kansas – and elsewhere. Meth is viewed by many as the most dangerous and addictive of commonly-available narcotics.

Users, who often stay awake for days, sometimes become violent and hallucinate. Scott Cheever, who was convicted of killing Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels in 2005, said that he was too high on meth at the time to be capable of premeditated murder.

King acknowledged some drugs are more difficult to detect than others, but he said the state must deal with the problem.

He said business leaders in southeast Kansas say they often have to start the hiring process on twice as many workers as they need because so many fail drug tests.

“That problem is pervasive enough that it is negatively affecting our employers,” he said. “When you have stories like that over and over affecting our job market, it’s a problem we need to address.”

Reach Brent Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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