Strengthening the Case for Workplace Drug Testing: The Growing Problem of Methamphetamines

Article excerpt

Recent research reports a sobering message for employers: about three-quarters of illegal drug users are employed, and one in five workers age 18 to 25 uses drugs at work. Among the drugs of choice, meth is the fastest growing and is a target of police nationwide. Meth users may be seeking to relieve workplace boredom, enhance concentration and wakefulness and generally improve performance. Ultimately, however, they are likely to increase a company's accident rate, absenteeism, turnover, health costs, grievance issues, and losses through theft, to name just some of the negatives. Companies can do much to control or eliminate the problem through explicitly written, well-disseminated, and strictly enforced policies, as well as drug testing, employee education, and employee assistance policies.

Introduction and Background

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 75% of illegal drug users are employed and one out of five workers in the 18-25 age bracket uses drugs at the worksite (NIDA, 2005). Methamphetamine (meth) use, in particular, is causing growing alarm for employers across the U.S. In a 2004 summary report by Quest Diagnostics Inc. that analyzed all drug test results performed by the company, positive tests for meth increased 68% over a one-year period (Quest, 2005). The resulting negative workplace behaviors have caused many companies to increase drug screenings. According to Quest Diagnostics the country's largest drug-testing company, the number of workers and applicants testing positive for meth has been rapidly increasing in the general workforce, led by southeastern states such as Georgia and Alabama. In addition, U.S. police raids of meth labs increased as much as 500% (Johnston, 2004). Police nationwide rank methamphetamine the No. 1 drug they battle today: in a survey of 500 law-enforcement agencies in 45 states released in July of 2005 by the National Association of Counties, 58% said meth is their biggest drug problem (Jefferson, 2005). To illustrate, Figure 1 from the Office of Applied Statistics at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services details the U.S. geographical migration of meth from the West Coast and increases in usage. According to the World Health Organization, the drug is more abused worldwide than cocaine and heroine and is increasingly popular with workers in highly industrialized economies. Future projections indicate that meth use will surpass cocaine as the illegal stimulant of choice.

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Implications for employers are great. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates annual workplace losses due to drug use of over $100 billion. Meth abuse losses are from accidents, health insurance and medical costs, absenteeism, tardiness, sick leave abuse, grievances, disability payments, lowered productivity, lowered co-worker morale, turnover, equipment damage, damage to public image, threats to public safety, worksite security and theft (Ladika, 2005). According to the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI), drug users consume almost twice the employment benefits as nonusers, are absent 50% more often, and file more than twice as many workers' compensation claims.

The University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic Research conducted an economic impact study in Benton County, Arkansas. According to the findings, meth use costs employers an estimated $42,000 per meth-using-worker-per year. This number does not include treatment, law enforcement, or other drug related expenditures (Adams, 2004). The Center identified five categories in which meth use most notably affects the workplace. The first and largest impact is on employee absenteeism; employees who use meth are five times more likely to miss work than non-using co-workers. Second, meth users are less productive; it takes four meth users to do the job of three non-meth users. …