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Painkillers put miners at risk

May 20, 2005
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For the first time, the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing has begun training its inspectors to identify miners who might be under the influence, reports the Associated Press.

"We realize the drug culture is out there in our society," said Paris Charles, head of the state agency.

"So, it stands to reason that it's in the mines also."

Mine inspectors should look for the same telltale signs that other law enforcers look for, such as poor hand-eye coordination and slurred speech, said a state patrolman teaching one of the classes.

Black-market drug sales are especially profitable in the mountain region, according to state police. Dealers can make more money in one weekend selling painkillers in small Appalachian towns than they can in an entire month in big cities.

"These guys who work in the mines get hurt and get hooked on this drug," said an officer. "It's hurt our miners bad."

In 2003 a miner was killed and another was seriously injured at the Cody Mining Co. in Floyd County. Marijuana was found at the scene, and an employee told investigators he saw two miners snorting crushed painkillers.

State and federal agencies lack the authority to test miners for drugs. But most large coal companies require miners to undergo random drug tests.

Some smaller companies also have begun drug-screening programs in recent years to try to identify impaired miners who might be a danger to others.

Tracy Stumbo, chief investigator for the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, said he has found marijuana and prescription drugs at mining operations.

He said drug abuse can't be tolerated because one impaired person can put an entire mining crew at risk.

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