Meth presence surges 68% in workplace drug tests
By Del Jones, USA TODAY
As states try to restrict sales of
over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine to keep it from being cooked
into methamphetamine, there is evidence meth is becoming the
workplace's latest drug headache.
Meth use by workers and job applicants soared
68% last year, according to data that will be released today by Quest
Diagnostics from the 7.1 million drug tests it administered for
employers in 2003. If use continues to rise at this pace, meth will
pass cocaine this year as the illegal stimulant of choice.
No end is in sight. Meth labs are migrating east and churning out increasingly pure and addictive drugs.
In the past, meth recipes were passed by word of
mouth between drug lab operators, said Ed Childress, special agent with
the Drug Enforcement Administration. But the Internet has put meth
recipes within anyone's reach.
The number of DEA meth lab seizures has risen
from fewer than 8,000 in 1999 to 10,000 last year. "It's pushed its way
like a firestorm across the United States," Childress said.
The trend is ominous in light of fresh research
by UCLA brain mapping expert Paul Thompson. He found that regular meth
users lose about 1% of their brain cells each year, a loss comparable
to that associated with Alzheimer's.
Workers use meth because it halts fatigue and
offers a feeling of self-confidence without an obnoxious high. But
increasingly large doses are needed to produce the same high, which
leads to addiction.
About 70% of Quest's drug tests are given to job applicants in pre-employment screening.
Overall, marijuana remains by far the most
popular drug, accounting for more than half of positive tests and about
3 positive tests per 100 given. In comparison, 3.2 in 1,000 tested
positive for meth in 2003, up 68% from 1.9 in 2002.
Barry Sample, Quest's science and technology
director, said methamphetamine use is what drove the 17% jump in
amphetamine use from 2001 to 2002.
That increase was considered shocking but is
dwarfed by last year's rise. The past six years, workplace amphetamine
use has surged 145%.