Drug and alcohol use in the workplace has always been a major concern for many managers. The latest drug to become a public health crisis—methamphetamine—is creating problems in workplaces across the nation. Experts note that the meth boom is different in important respects from other substance-abuse issues in the workplace, and employers need to be aware of the facts. Here's what you need to know:
The scope of the crisis. Though the meth epidemic is real, it should be noted that many media reports have greatly exaggerated the scope of the crisis. Federal statistics suggest that 12 million people (ages 12 and older) have used meth at least once in their lifetime, and that fewer than 1 million use it regularly. That's out of 16 million regular drug users, so it's wise to realize that more established drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, are still far more likely to appear in your workplace.
However, what's alarmed many experts is the speed with which meth has become the drug of choice for many adults—so fast as to call into question the federal statistics, which lag a year or two behind. Workplace drug-testing firms report that the number of positive tests for meth has doubled each year for the past several years. And law enforcement points to the growing number of first-time drug users over 30 for whom meth, not marijuana, is their first drug experience.
Who uses meth? That last fact highlights what's become a concern for employers—while meth isn't notably more attractive to kids, or to regular drug users, than other drugs, it's booming among populations who have typically been drug-free. Much has been made in the media of the meth boom in rural America, but it has also become a drug of choice for white-collar professionals who rely on the stimulant to keep their performance at top speed.
Now, the use of stimulants such as traditional amphetamines ("speed") has long been known, and in some cases tolerated, in many workplaces. Unlike more intoxicating drugs, meth produces what appears at first to be increased performance, making it hard to spot without the use of drug testing. It's when use becomes addiction—which happens fairly rapidly—that performance issues manifest themselves.
Awareness is key. Pay attention to sudden changes in performance—even for the better—among your team members. And be aware of the overall level of stress and workload your team is feeling. Minimizing the temptation to turn to drugs for extra energy is essential to stopping a workplace meth problem before it starts. An open dialogue with your team, and an understanding ear for individuals who are feeling too much stress, can go a long way.
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