Study finds users of ‘ice’ take their habits to work

The use of “ice” – the illicit drug methamphetamine – is causing and contributing to growing levels of workplace absenteeism, but even more alarming is that many methamphetamine users are turning up to work while under its influence.

In a new study focusing on the use of methamphetamine by Australians in paid employment, researchers from the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) at Flinders University found that the highest rates of methamphetamine use is among workers in the hospitality.

Four percent of the workforce had used methamphetamine in the past 12 months and the 18 to 29 age group have the highest rate of use (11.2 per cent of total users). Close to a third (32.9 per cent) of employed methamphetamine users reported going to work while under the influence of the drug, while just over 13 per cent reported that they had failed to attend work because of illicit drug use.

The study, based on data from the 2004 National Drug Household Survey, has recently been published in the Drug and Alcohol Review. One of the report’s authors, Dr Ken Pidd, said that although methamphetamine users represent a very small fraction of the workforce, the findings give cause for considerable concern on several fronts.

“There is an obvious link to lost productivity through heightened absenteeism – apart from absences from work due directly to illicit drug use, 56.8 per cent of methamphetamine users reported absenteeism due to illness and injury in the three months before the survey,” Dr Pidd said.

Statistics reveal that employed methamphetamine users are more extensive polydrug users, with the other drugs used most commonly being alcohol (99 per cent), tobacco (65 per cent), ecstasy (34 per cent) and cocaine (23 per cent).

The occupational profiles of ice users is also alarming: Dr Pidd said with use among workers in the hospitality industry running at 9.5 per cent, at 5.4 per cent in the construction and transport industry and at 6.5 per cent among tradespeople, there are clear implications for occupational health and safety.

“When compared to users of other illicit drugs, methamphetamine users are significantly more likely to drive a car, operate heavy machinery or abuse someone while under the influence,” Dr Pidd said.

The anti-social and risk-taking behaviour of methamphetamine users may also extend to work-place violence, harassment and bullying, and impact negatively on work-place morale in general.

“They pose risks not only to themselves, but to their co-workers and members of the public,” Dr Pidd said.

As well as defining the scale and nature of the problem, Dr Pidd said the study’s development of a ‘profile’ of workers who use methamphetamine means that there is now an opportunity to develop more cost effective targeted intervention and prevention programs.

“Because the findings indicate that methamphetamine use is significantly more common among employed Australians than the population overall and that the use is occurring mainly among identifiable work-force groups, the appropriate workplaces can be utilised not only to run drug education programs, but to offer access to treatment and rehabilitation programs.”

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