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Signs of Drug Use

By Robert L. Cain


Joan had been a good tenant.  She paid the rent on time, kept her home neat and tidy, was friendly and outgoing.  Suddenly that changed, at least that’s what her landlord, Mel, thought.  The rent began to arrive late and Mel had to go to the property to collect it.  Her appearance had changed dramatically.  She no longer paid much attention to how she looked and her housekeeping had done a 180.  And she had gotten fired from her job.


After a couple of months of this, Mel evicted her.  She had started taking drugs or started again, whichever.  There had been no sign when Mel rented to her.  Her references were glowing and she had a steady job.


That’s one thing that can happen when a tenant takes drugs.  It can be even worse when an employee does.  Workplace drug use can mean increases in critical errors, frequent long- and short- term disability, higher workers’ compensation costs, insurance fraud, medical care and treatment, and, of course, lost productivity.  Then there are the accidents and resulting incidents and injuries that can affect not only the employee but also his or her fellow employees. Plus, if the drug use results in the employee injuring someone from the public, the lawsuit potential grows exponentially. It’s just bad business all around.


Our best protection is to reject applicants who are drug users. What we’ll look at here are some general ways to spot someone who might be using drugs, those things we can spot before ever hiring or renting to him or her. We won’t look at all of them because signs vary depending on the type of drug being used. For complete information on signs of drug use, visit narconon.org.


One important thing to be aware of, though, is if a person is a “former” drug user and/or in treatment for it, it is a violation of the Fair Housing Act to refuse to rent to him or her and the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to refuse to hire because of past drug use.  However, looking at other criteria, such as poor credit, poor landlord references, and poor employer references are sufficient grounds to refuse to rent or hire.


The first thing to look at is the eyes.  Three things can indicate drug use, red, bloodshot or squinty red eyes, dilated pupils, and constricted pupils.  The red eyes could mean a current marijuana user.  By current, I mean recent, as in hours before.  After the effects have worn off, the eyes return to “normal.”  Of course, red eyes could also mean a cold or allergies or just a tough night the night before, so don’t rely on that.  Marijuana use is legal in several states and medical marijuana use in even more states.  However, that doesn’t mean that someone may come to work high any more than someone may come to work drunk.


Red, bloodshot eyes mean you need to check further.  You might look for misjudging time.  So if someone is late for the interview or to see the property without any reasonable excuse and seemingly without being sorry, that can be another sign of a marijuana high.  In fact, showing up late for the appointment often means he or she will show up late or not at all to work and with the rent. In addition, look for everything seeming to be funny, short-term memory loss as to even what job he or she is applying for or what property he or she is looking at.  You can also sometimes smell them with what narconon.org describes as the “sickly, sweet smell on the body.”


Dilated pupils can be the result of meth, ecstasy, cocaine, LSD, and tranquilizer use.  Of course, your applicant could have just come in from a darkened room, but pupils adjust in brighter light, so if they stay dilated, that could be a sign of current drug use. To further check, how is he or she acting?  If you see hyperactivity, talkativeness, overconfidence, euphoria, or aggressiveness, it could be a sign of cocaine or crack cocaine use.  It merits further exploration, assuming that everything on the application is up to par.  If it isn’t, just reject the applicant.  Do you want someone like that working for or renting from you?


Constricted pupils can be the result of benzodiazepines or heroin use.  Benzodiazepines go by the street names of “benzos,” “tranx” and “sleepers.”  They are prescription drugs whose brand names include Xanax, Valium and Klonipin.  You may also notice that the person is drowsy (a great way to show up for an interview), has poor memory or concentration, slow movement and reactions, apathy and even depression.  Of course, constricted pupils could also be the result of coming in from the bright sun.  But non-drug-affected eyes will adjust rapidly to a darker room.  If they don’t, look for the other signs of use.


Heroin use also results in constricted pupils.  Additional signs of heroin use are slow breathing, a dreamlike state where a person can drift off for minutes (or even hours) at a time, flushed skin and runny nose.  Long-term heroin users can seem to do all right with normal routines while others may be completely powerless to do anything.


Oxycodone, or Oxycontin, is a special case.  A legal prescription drug, it is “a strong, semi-synthetic opiate painkiller sold in the US, Europe and Australia. It was a godsend for people in severe, debilitating pain such as those with bone or neurological degeneration, or those who suffered from end-stage cancer or similar illnesses,” reports narconon.org.  Its effects are said to resemble those of heroin. Signs of its use include constricted pupils, and drowsiness, euphoria, dry mouth, sweating and other symptoms.  Longer-term users seem to be able to function relatively normally in their jobs and lives. It is highly addictive,  and “the person who is addicted didn’t start out abusing the drug but took it exactly according to the doctor’s instruction. But opiates result in a person building up a tolerance.”  So even after the need for the drug, pain relief, is over, the addicted person “they may steal the drug, buy it from drug dealers, doctor-shop or use any means they can to keep themselves supplied and prevent withdrawal,” explains narconon.org.


That addiction can create major problems for employers and landlords in that the addict’s entire existence revolves around getting another fix.  He or she may begin to neglect everything except acquiring the drug.  Family, work, health and everything else takes a back seat to feeding the addiction.   Renting to or hiring an “oxy” addict is like hiring a heroin addict.  Expect to have late rent and careless housekeeping and personal appearance, and numerous sick days.


But all consistent drug use can mean a lack of care of appearance.


It’s not our business if someone takes drugs, but it is our business if the drugs affect workplace performance or quality as a tenant.  Thus, if we notice signs of drug use, and the applicant appears to meet our criteria for hiring or renting, it behooves us to check further.  We do our company and our investment no service by renting to a drug user.


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