It’s a disturbing trend. A growing number of U.S. workers are using amphetamines, and one of the reasons could be tough economic times.

Quest Diagnostic, the drug-testing company, reported a 57 percent spike in workers across the country testing positive for amphetamines in the last five years, and they reported “alarmingly” high rates of positives for methamphetamines in nine states, including Hawaii, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, California, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and Kansas.

“In 2010 alone, thousands of U.S. workers tested positive for this highly addictive substance that can affect behavior and judgment, and quickly change the course of a life,” said Dr. Barry Sample, Director of Science and Technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions.

This isn’t some little sample of employees. The company bases its data on more than 4.5 million urine specimens collected from the general U.S. workforce from January-December 2010.

Dr. Steven Shoptaw, Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Family Medicine, and a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-funded clinical researcher focused on medications and behavioral therapies for methamphetamine dependence, speculated that the economy may be contributing to the problem.

“A percentage of these workers likely became involved in using amphetamine/methamphetamine not due to the euphoric highs produced by the drugs, but because of their abilities to focus attention, increase energy, brighten mood and so forth,” he said. “For workers who have jobs that require dull or repetitive tasks or who need to work overtime or need to work two jobs to be able to pay the bills, stimulants such as amphetamines/methamphetamine are efficient in helping them to get their work done and still have energy left when they get home to take care of family or household responsibilities.”

So basically, these types of users aren’t doing it to get high. Instead, he added, “they would be using the drug to get through their very long and difficult days, in a way that is analogous to how many American workers rely on coffee and other caffeinated/energy drinks.”

Unfortunately, the abuse of these drugs will do more harm than good in the end.

They can be highly addictive, Shoptaw stressed:

“While amphetamines (and methamphetamine) taken at high doses produces an intense “high” (euphoria) when individuals begin using the drug, the euphoria becomes less of a motivator for its continued use as time and chronic use progresses. In these instances, withdrawal symptoms (feelings of fatigue, depression, cognitive dullness) often lead users to return to the drug. This point illustrates the strong “pull” of these drugs (up to and including addiction) when considering that workers will use these drugs regularly even in the face of drug testing.”

On a positive note, the number of workers testing positive for cocaine declined 65 percent in the last five years. But that may also be a function of hard times for employees. The cost of cocaine has risen and isn’t as readily available, while meth has actually declined in some cases and is easier to find.

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