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Methamphetamine in the Workplace Setting

Workplace Prevalence
Methamphetamine use has traditionally been associated with white, rural blue-collar workers who are predominantly male, their ages in the 20s or 30s. Workers may use methamphetamine in an attempt to be more productive since productivity in the workplace is greatly valued. They are tricked or lured into believing that meth reduces stress by increasing their performance, concentration and productivity by giving them energy to take on additional work shifts or to work for longer hours without the need to rest – enabling one to meet a deadline, for instance. And, indeed, a worker can become "super productive” when he or she first takes the substance. But, the worker who uses methamphetamine will never reach that kind of productiveness again due to the nature of how the substance affects the brain (for more information on addiction, visit the Addiction (Dependence) section of this Web site).

On a positive note, according to several recent reports, methamphetamine use in the workplace is decreasing. Quest Diagnostics, the nation’s largest drug-testing company, produces the Drug Testing Index® on a semi-annual basis using data collected strictly from the workplace. The June 2006 report indicated that methamphetamine use in the workplace decreased significantly during 2005. This decline is attributed, in part, to workplace drug-testing programs.

While drug testing appears to be hindering methamphetamine use in the workplace, the substance is, nevertheless, still taken at some worksites. Those workers who use meth at the worksite are most often low intensity users and will take meth orally, mixed with a drink, or snorted, to provide a burst of energy to finish a task. This method of ingestion makes it easier for a user to take the substance at work without getting caught or giving too many signs of using at work.

There is limited industry-specific information currently available as to which professions have workers who are more likely to use methamphetamine. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) suggests that some groups, such as truck drivers, athletes and restaurant, construction, factory, mining and white-collar workers may be especially susceptible to the illusion that using meth is beneficial. Some of these industries, especially construction, manufacturing and mining, may be partially explained by the fact that they employ high concentrations of males in their 20s and 30s. In these particular industries, long hours, fatigue and productiveness all play a role in job success and create temptation to turn to drugs such as meth.

Signs and Symptoms of Use by Employees
While it is not the role of the employer, supervisor or manager to diagnose substance use, abuse or addiction, it is helpful to understand some of the signs and symptoms of methamphetamine use. As an employer, supervisor, manager or co-worker, the main area of focus is work performance and presenteeism. Many things, not just drug abuse, can interfere with a person’s ability to competently do the job. It is important to remember that if an employee displays signs and symptoms of meth use, it does not necessarily mean there is a meth problem. However, knowing the signs and symptoms of meth use can help prepare employers or supervisors to confront and intervene when appropriate. For example, when a worker is high on methamphetamine, that person can initially be very productive, focused and quite efficient in his or her job performance. However, this phase of productivity does not continue. Researchers found that an inability to ignore distraction or to focus on a task is another possible indication of methamphetamine use (NIDA Notes, Vol. 20 N5/Highlights).

Most methamphetamine addicts are not in the workplace. Meth users burn out quickly and are unable to hold down a job. An indication of a substance problem is an applicant with a history of many short-lived jobs. When considering a new hire, pay attention to the candidate’s job history and consider a background check and possible prescreening with drug testing.

Certain other behavior may be indicative of methamphetamine use. Of particular concern with a methamphetamine user is the time when that person begins to come down from the high, known as the tweaking phase. It can cause feelings of anxiety and emptiness, resulting in extreme irritability and paranoia. There may be unpredictable and dangerous behavior exhibited when or if the person is startled, confused or confronted. Other physical and emotional/behavioral signs and symptoms of possible methamphetamine use include a decrease in or lack of appetite, unexplained weight loss, insomnia, dilated pupils, hand tremors, dry mouth, excessive talking, delusions of grandeur and hallucinations.

Impact/Costs to the Workplace
The most obvious cost to the workplace of an employee using methamphetamine is absenteeism, increased illness rates and accidents and lost productivity. Another less tangible cost includes low employee morale. In actual dollar figures, the University of Arkansas' Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business’ report, The Economic Impact of Methamphetamine Use in Benton County Arkansas, determined that meth-addicted employees cost each business just under $47,500 per year in that particular county, and the Center has reason to believe its findings translate to other areas of the country. And, as with any substance problem, there is typically a rise in healthcare and workers’ compensation claims.

Methamphetamine by nature has the potential to increase workplace violence. Workplace violence may be verbal or physical, but it is more likely to be physical with a methamphetamine user. It is helpful to review a company’s Violence in the Workplace (VITW) policy and guidelines as part of dealing with methamphetamine in the workplace. Additional information about workplace violence can be obtained from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Another form of violence in the workplace is identity theft. It appears that many methamphetamine users are quite skilled at stealing a person’s identity as a means of supporting their substance habit. Methamphetamine acts on the part of the brain that causes a person to do something over and over. With added energy, the ability to focus and an inability to sleep while high on meth, the meth addict has a great deal of time to sit in front of a computer for hours at a time. According to a 2004 survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center, 14% of victims who responded to the survey said the impostor was an employee of a business that had their information. Further, the cost of identity theft to a business for 2004 was over $49,000.

Drug use at the workplace is always a possibility, and with drug use, there is often drug trafficking. Drug trafficking can take place at the worksite, in stair wells, in the parking lot and in break rooms. Be aware of the surroundings and be familiar with policies concerning illegal activities at the workplace.

Community Meth Problems Influence Workplaces
There are a number of ways meth can negatively affect communities. Because meth can be easily manufactured in homes using readily available products, its manufacture creates significant problems and hazards including explosions, toxic waste, and child neglect and abuse. Children living in homes with meth labs are exposed to toxic waste and are typically neglected if not abused by meth-using parents and caretakers. There is an increase in HIV/AIDS associated with meth use as the substance decreases a user’s inhibitions. Further, the materials used to produce the drug are toxic and often flammable, and any mistakes can result in an explosion or injury to not just the meth cook, but to their families, resulting in an increase in hospital visits related to chemical burns. Methamphetamine in the community means an increase in crime in such areas as burglaries, theft (especially identity theft), physical and/or domestic violence and even murder.

Employers may want to find out whether their community has been affected by meth, because if it has, it is likely that meth may be in the workplace too – either directly with an employee or by means of an employee’s relative or friend. To provide an idea of where methamphetamine manufacturing has been occurring, below is a map listing the total number of all meth clandestine laboratory incidents in the U.S. during 2005. A lab incident includes labs, dumpsites and the discovery of lab equipment.