Methamphetamine (meth) use has reached epidemic levels. According to a national survey, at least three quarters of all meth users are employed. At first glance, a user might not look like the "meth head" picture in your mind. Many users stir the drug into their morning coffee before rushing off to work. Human Resources and management staff should be alert and observant if an employee is suspected of meth use.
While meth addiction has become a mainstream concern only in the last decade or two, the drug has been around much longer. First created in Germany in the late 1800s, it was used as a potential cure for many illnesses and disorders, such as depression and asthma. During World War II and the Vietnam War, soldiers were fed the drug to give them stamina. Doctors prescribed amphetamines to women in the '50s and '60s to boost weight loss. The drug--cheap and easy to make--is now more potent than ever.
Meth can come in powder form or chunks that resemble small rocks. The drug can be a brownish color like peanut butter, reddish, white, yellow or even clear. This depends on what chemicals and other ingredients were used when making the specific batch. There are different ways that meth users ingest the drug. Some meth users smoke the drug, using items like homemade pipes or even tin foil. Others inject meth with a syringe. Meth users sometimes snort the crushed powder, eat it or mix it into a beverage and drink it.
There are certain behaviors to watch for if you suspect an employee is addicted to or even casually using meth. Users may show all or none of these behaviors. Rapid weight loss and a gaunt appearance is common. The person may be jittery and anxious, moodier and prone to angry or manic outbursts. Rapid eye movement and awkward, rapid, jerky body movements are also typical. They might have open sores or other skin problems on their face and arms as well as dental problems. They also tend to have an odd, chemical body odor.
While meth use has become a common problem, there are still several myths and misconceptions regarding the drug. It is not the No. 1 abused substance in the United States. That dubious honor still goes to alcohol. Meth use in teens is not rising. In fact, it has begun to drop. Sadly, the U.S. is seeing an upswing in teen heroin use instead. Probably the most promising misconception about meth use is that addicts do not respond well to treatment. Several recovery programs now boast a 60 to 90 percent recovery rate.
Businesses should implement a written drug-free policy and train management staff about the effects and signs of drug use. Using pre-hire drug tests is recommended, and you might elect to require unannounced drug screening of all employees periodically as well. Encourage staff members to come to management if they suspect a colleague is using drugs, offering complete anonymity. Offer employee assistance programs in your benefits package that include affordable counseling and other behavioral health options.