Methamphetamine Use Likely To Be Newest Headache For Employers

By Beth Lindamood, senior analyst, Great American Insurance Company

Businesses in the United States—already losing more than $100 billion annually due to workplace drug abuse—are advised to prepare for the latest drug to arrive on the country's landscape: methamphetamine. The drug, which first appeared on American soil in Hawaii, was described in June as "probably the worst drug to hit America in 20 years" by Drug Control Policy Director Barry McCaffrey.

If the past is any indication, the drug will find its way from the street into the workplace with greater frequency. Great American is, in fact, already telling the companies we work with to watch for signs of its arrival. This is a dangerous drug, and its use is spreading dramatically.

Though the current wave of methamphetamine use started in California and spread across the western states, Drug Czar McCaffrey recently explained that the drug has now arrived on the East Coast, in places like Boston and Atlanta. Recent news reports bear him out. Only weeks ago the special agent in charge of the DEA's Atlanta office reported that methamphetamine is being found all over the city and becoming tremendously popular.

Methamphedamine—also known as crank, crystal meth, ice and a variety of other names—is a psychostimulant in the amphetamine family. It can be snorted, smoked or injected, and produces a very jittery high that with extreme use produces feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Even in small doses, symptoms of methamphetamine use include increased alertness and physical activity, aggression, confusion, talkativeness and mood elevation. Employers should be especially cautious because unlike many other drugs showing up in employee drug screenings, methamphetamine abusers tend to engage in violent behavior, and the user can change from friendly to hostile in an instant.

While methamphetamine use can be detected in the common "five-panel" drug screen used by most companies that drug test, it can be easily missed unless companies are vigilant. A positive test for methamphetamine will first appear simply as a positive for the amphetamine category. A medical review officer trained in discerning methamphetamine from amphetamines can ask for further evaluations to be done on the specimen to confirm a positive test for methamphetamine.

Experts agree methamphetamine will stay in the system of the user—and therefore be detectable in a drug test—for only two-to-three days.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America reports that, nationally, most regular users of methamphetamine are 15 years old or younger (53%), male (64%), middle income (49%) and white (69%). Don Mandrala, resident agent in charge of the Salt Lake City Metro Task Force—which recently received a portion of a $600,000 Federal grant to Utah to target methamphetamine manufacturing—says most users encountered by his office are employed, and about half hold white collar jobs.

One thing businesses really have to keep in mind is the fact that many users are young. After all, large numbers of these users will be entering the workforce in the coming years. The ultimate impact of methamphetamine, at least as it relates to the workplace, is yet to be determined. We can really be sure of only one thing: as is the case with workplace drug abuse in general, no company is immune from the abuse of methamphetamine by its workers.