The United States automotive industry is reportedly having more trouble than ever finding and maintaining solid employees. It seems that meth and opioids have become a replacement for social inebriants, like beer and marijuana, and are now threatening the overall strength of the blue-collar workforce.
According to a report from Automotive News, domestic autoworkers have discovered a newfound lust for intoxicating substances that goes beyond grabbing a few drinks after their shift is over. Assembly line workers have graduated to harder drugs, including methamphetamine, heroin and prescription painkillers—causing the industry concern about their workers being ravished by the gripping throes of addiction.
It’s a situation that is becoming more of a problem with each passing day, said George Washington, an employee-assistance representative with General Motors.
“It’s not alcohol, it’s not marijuana now. You’re dealing with meth, you’re dealing with the opioids, you’re dealing with the heroin,” he said. “It’s starting to show up more and more at the automakers’ doorsteps.”
Rather than turn its back on those with a problem, many automakers have invested in programs to help workers pull themselves out of the grave and get on the road to recovery. But even though there is help available, most folks refuse to take advantage for fear that they’ll lose their position at the plant and perhaps be eliminated altogether.
Even if a worker decides to utilize the company’s rehab assistance, many times these people end up coming back in a mental funk that is almost as treacherous to production as the addiction.
“This opioid addiction is one of the worst addictions I have ever seen,” Washington said. “It’s so tricky, it’s so powerful. They’ll go in, they’ll get clean. But then when the bottom falls out, it’s one of the most painful I’ve ever seen. They’re suicidal, they feel they’ve let everybody down, they feel they’ve let themselves down. I think it’s a lot more difficult to recover from.”
But why is it that so many autoworkers are getting sucked into hard drugs in the first place?
It’s a bi-product of the mundane and physically demanding, says Kevin Bush, an employee support representative with the Ford Motor Company.
Because assembly line workers are forced to stand all day long in a stark atmosphere, where repetition is the name of the game, these folks often lean on prescription painkillers and even street drugs to get them through their shift as comfortably as possible.
“Assembly work is very boring, very tedious,” he said. “That kind of work causes many aches and pains in their body. Maybe they have a pain and the doctor prescribes opioids. And over a period of time, the use of that creates a high tolerance and an addiction. And one thing leads to another and it gets worse.”
Author’s Note: I worked for Toyota Manufacturing as a fork truck driver before making the decision in 2008 to become a full-time writer. The next part of this story is based solely on five years experience as an employee in the auto industry.
What makes the situation worse is the fact that a lot of workers are using their employer-paid health insurance to get all of the opioids and amphetamine they need to be functional and happy throughout the course of the day. But even consuming these substances in a manner that is mostly above board with respect to the company drug policy can cause issues because a lot of workers are staying high all day long.
This presents a problem because these substances can lead to accidents and injury… and often do.
Most line workers are fully aware that they cannot come to work under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, but they do not give much consideration to the idea that prescription medications can be as dangerous. Even if they do give the risk factors some thought, most do not care. They are simply doing what they feel needs to be done to survive the day.
Using the health insurance scam is the most common method to escape disciplinary action for drug use in a factory setting. I should know. I ran a successful scheme that allowed me a bottomless pit of opioids and amphetamines during my years at Toyota.
Although most automakers conduct random drug screens on employees to test for illegal drugs, prescription opioids (OxyContin and Lortab) and amphetamines (Adderall and Ritalin) do not raise any red flags because these pills are authorized by a physician.
Under this logic, a worker can be loaded up on legal painkillers and speed all day and technically never risk losing their job. That’s why many workers conjure up fabricated symptoms and then lean on their family doctors for a prescription. Even if this takes several visits to accomplish, it’s all company paid so there is no real investment other than time.
In the end, it is really up to the individual to decide when a recovery program is necessary.
For the most part, workers are going to continue burning the candle at both ends in order to make a living. Those who do decide to enter into a rehab program have to do so by applying for time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Although that person’s job is guaranteed when they return to work, their position may change. For many people, the risk of being put in a less desirable department after being away for a few months is enough to prevent them from stepping up to become drug-free.