Drug abuse as an economic threat


As a pastor and prison chaplain, I was for years confronted by the grim reality of drug abuse and the toll it took on individuals.  That was bad enough – but now the problem is so widespread, and so aggravated by new and “enhanced” drugs, that it’s becoming a serious threat to our economy as a whole.

For example, there’s the supply chain crunch we’ve examined in these pages for some time.  One of the biggest problems is a lack of drivers for long-haul trucks.  Turns out that drug abuse is one of the main reasons there aren’t enough of them.

A dire truck driver shortage that’s wreaking havoc on the US economy is getting worse — and it’s being fueled partly by tough federal drug-testing restrictions that were imposed nationwide last year, industry officials told The Post.

More than 72,000 truck drivers have been taken off US roads since January 2020 because they have failed drug tests that are now required by the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, a 22-month-old registry established to increase safety on US highways, according to government data.

That’s a big number, considering that the American Trucking Association — which also blames the pandemic and a lack of younger drivers, among other factors — recently pegged the industry’s overall driver shortfall at 80,000, up from 60,800 in 2018 and 50,700 in 2017.

There’s more at the link.

There are those who say that we should simply abandon the new drug testing rules for truck drivers – that would solve the shortage.  However, it’s not that easy.  When you consider just how potent and damaging illicit narcotics have become, the last thing I want on our roads is more drug-using drivers!

First, the good news … Heroin has largely disappeared from much of America.

The bad news: That’s because heroin has been replaced by the synthetic anesthetic fentanyl, which is much stronger and deadlier.

The worse news: Fentanyl is so cheap that drug dealers have taken to sprinkling it into most of the other drugs they sell, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, because a dash of fentanyl makes all drugs more euphoric. Plus, it’s extraordinarily addictive, so you can become a fentanyl addict without even knowing you have been ingesting it. You just want your dealer to sell you more of that good stuff.

On the other hand, you probably won’t be a fentanyl addict for long because just a tiny excess amount can kill you. And drug dealers aren’t good at quality control when mixing white powders. When stepping on their product, Quinones says, local dealers invariably rely on $29.88 Magic Bullet blenders, which are great at mixing liquids for smoothies, but are terrible at mixing powders, so nobody can tell how much fentanyl wound up in your particular dose.

Therefore, Quinones warns that the era of recreational drug use is over:

That concept belongs to a past when drugs were far more expensive, harder to procure and less potent and more forgiving…. Now, every line of cocaine, every “pill” [counterfeit OxyContins are often fentanyl] at a party is an invitation to Russian roulette. On the streets of America, there’s no such thing as a long-term fentanyl user.

. . .

Second, there’s more good news … Crack, which was such a disaster for America in the late 1980s, is fading in popularity.

The bad news: Mexican crystal meth has taken over from crack. Meth, long the low-rent white drug, has spread to Latinos and now blacks.

The worse news: Meth is now really cheap because huge Mexican drug labs have replaced the old ephedrine-based meth with a high-volume recipe that Quinones calls P2P meth that can be made from common industrial chemicals without requiring any controlled substances like ephedrine.

The worst news: While the old ephedrine meth was a party drug, the poor man’s powder cocaine, the new meth can much more rapidly inflict monstrous brain-damaging psychotic side effects resembling schizophrenia, such as paranoia, hearing voices, and the destruction of memory and personality. These adverse events can set in within weeks of starting on modern Mexican meth and often don’t begin to fade until after six months or a year of abstinence.

. . .

Meth is an upper and fentanyl is a downer, so, at least, never the twain shall meet, right? Nowadays, though, addicts tend to cycle through both drugs to self-medicate. Meth covers up the withdrawal symptoms of getting off fentanyl, and then fentanyl seems to make meth heads act less crazy. Rinse and repeat until dead.

Again, more at the link.

Being already aware of the impact of drugs on their unfortunate users, I’m “sensitized”, if you will, to what this might mean for employers.  (Don’t forget, I was a company director in another life, before the good Lord changed my career direction to the ministry, so I’m well aware of business realities.)  I’ve been looking into that in connection with the shortage of workers about which many US companies are complaining.  It turns out that a large part of the problem is that potential new hires can’t pass a pre-employment drug test, or – if they pass it – they’re found out by routine, ongoing drug testing practiced by many employers.  Just last week, a correspondent at a nearby employer told me that up to half of those who apply for jobs there are rejected on the grounds of active use of illegal narcotics.  That employer dare not risk the legal consequences of employees being stoned on the job.  The chances that they might injure or kill someone are too high.

I daresay the COVID-19 shutdown of our economy hasn’t helped.  Millions of workers were idled, but had money to burn, thanks to increased unemployment allowances and “stimulus” payments.  How many of them, I wonder, turned to “recreational” drugs to help them get through the monotony?  I suspect it was more than a few, particularly in inner-city “ghetto” areas.  How many of those previously-employed workers have found they can’t be re-hired, or get a new job, because of their drug use?

Given the scale of the problem, and the frightening effect of modern drugs on their users, I certainly don’t support legalizing some of them.  There are those who say that marijuana isn’t really a problem, and should be de-criminalized;  but how many of its users are adding fentanyl to their habit, even if they don’t know it?  That’s a scary thought.  I’d love to know how many people busted for marijuana use also test positive for more harmful substances.  I suspect it’s more than a few.

How are you finding this problem, readers?  Health industry workers – what proportion of your patients are drug users?  Those of you in commerce and industry – are the employment problems I’ve mentioned present at your employer, too?  I’d like to know how widespread this problem has become in the experience of our readership.  Please let us know in Comments.



  1. I am sure one of the drugs adding to the problem of positive drug tests is marijuana. While it has been legalized in several states, it is still illegal at the federal level. I am sure a lot of those using it don't take that into consideration, and are probably surprised when they are fired for failing a drug test because of it.

  2. Perhaps the emphasis on the drugs is like blaming the "gun" in wrongful shootings. The war on drugs, like the war on crime, fails to address the real issues.
    Maybe the problem is a spiritual disease in the addict. The continuing decline of morals/ethics/character are further indication of the USA's declining spiritual health.
    Look in you soul, Peter. You should know this.

  3. I still cannot understand the fuss about drug use in this country. Driving or endangering others with your use is one thing, but to declare it a national crisis is just nuts! Why do we want to save the worst society has to offer (narcan, etc.) Warning labels on everything that common sense should dictate. Let people die that want to die, the 'problem' will soon solve itself. I think the reason our country is in dire straits now is because we have saved the stupid people to the point they outnumber us.

  4. Declaring drug use to be a national emergency allows Congress to throw money at the problem and grow the business. New employees then contribute to the reelection of pliable politicians.

  5. Drug dealers should be dealt the same penalties as "mass shooters." They're shooting into a crowd with no care as to who they hit and who dies. Hang 'em all!

  6. When I was in the labor pool, I had a distinct advantage in the ability to pass the 'p!ss test'.

    If you want to work, you stay sober. If not, well, reap what you sow.

    There are really good paying jobs out there and the primary sorting technique is the p!ss test.

    The libertarian in me says the screening should only be after an incident, and a positive should come with dire consequences, but the realist in me says that the addict doesn't just hurt themselves and it's unfair to the other victim to only wait until after.

    Like facial tats, and questionable social media history, society is going to have to come to some accommodation with the new reality of drug use.


  7. Warehouses also drug test. IMHO that’s a major kink in the logistics chain. It’s “challenging” to find folks willing to work fast paced, detail oriented, physically demanding jobs with odd hours. When you add passing random UA tests and not so great pay the result is a labor shortage. Overwhelmed employees look for jobs in other fields which exacerbates the existing manpower crunch

  8. I'm with Grumpy: 100%. There are those of us who look forward to praising G-d's name the minute we open our eyes every morning (not chanting it loudly to the heavens, not falling on our knees, not running off to church to show everyone how religious we are, but silently thanking G-d for the opportunity of this day every day as we're shaving or washing our face); we get high on life itself, we don't need any additives or stimulants (and mostly are unable to understand those who do: our failing).

  9. Hey Peter;

    Then you add the federal mandates on "The Vaxx" then you exacerbate the labor shortage on top on the drug test.

  10. Funny thing, asking health care workers about the level of illegal drug use among their patients. I retired after 25+ years in the health care business and the level of drug use among health care workers themselves is amazing. If your pain killer doesn't seem to be working, maybe your nurse needed it worse than you did.

  11. "The worse news: Meth is now really cheap because huge Mexican drug labs have replaced the old ephedrine-based meth with a high-volume recipe that Quinones calls P2P meth that can be made from common industrial chemicals without requiring any controlled substances like ephedrine."

    I think the real question about this is can we start buying Sudafed over the counter again please??

  12. And all these idiots are responsible for people who have chronic severe pain not being able to get the meds they need because"everyone is an addict".

  13. One other facet is low wages. This blog has discussed inflation numerous times. Many employers now only hire for 30 hours per week to avoid benefits and are still trying to pay the same wages as 2 years ago. Now you have to work 2 jobs to try and get by, and neither job wants to acknowledge the other so there are often conflicts. Trustworthy people with a work ethic have never been common and you always get what you pay for. The price of labor has been going up, the employers just don't seem to realize it.

  14. In statistics for homeless there seems to be a 10% death rate with a lot if it due to over doses.

    And China is exporting a lot of the Industrial ingredients to Mexico. Opium War 2?

  15. I've lost out on engineering contracts because I'm diabetic. I don't have to take insulin, but a few years ago I was laid off from one client because "…our insurance doesn't protect us if you pass out…" from either high blood sugar or low blood sugar.

  16. From the over-the-water transport side:

    We are altering our recruiting efforts to account for the ability to pass a piss test. The US Coast Guard has doubled the required minimum amount of random testing as a result of more than 1% of all drug tests coming back positive industry-wide. We crossed the 1% threshold in 2020 for the first time, and 2021 saw the number increase.
    Some merchant mariners will ingest weed or THC/CBD in the early days of a months-long rotation home. post-Latency time for testing positive is shorter for piss testing than it is for hair samples, and hair samples are only used to confirm a positive piss test.
    My company lost 2 good officers this year to positive tests. One was a junior officer with real potential, who cited peer pressure from friends as the reason why he lost his license and is banned from the only industry he knows, with 70k in maritime college debt he will never be able to pay for using what he learned, a wife of only 2 years and a 3-month old.
    The other one was a tugboat captain who lost a 125k/yr job working only part time. Being a high school dropout and a generally unpleasant person, I can't see him bouncing back from that tax on his lack of self-control.
    The consensus is still that weed is a gateway drug, although it seems that the common opinion is that this is most accurate among people with addictive personalities. For me, a consummate caffeine junkie, it was exactly the reason I never tried cocaine even when I used to drink at the local biker bar. I supplied them with fresh lobster and cod, so I got to drink there for cheap.

    I'm especially sympathetic to Linda G's point. I have a sibling who was given oxycontin after a spinal injury. 5 unsuccessful surgeries later, workers comp dried up, and the crackdown on medication meant that his dosage was reduced by 90% overnight and switched to an anti-inflammatory and utterly ineffective medication. Heroin in small doses cost only $12 a day. We all know what happens after that of course.
    Is there anyone who took oxycontin as part of a pain management regime who doesn't become a junkie? I don't know of any. He was very lucky to have had a 2nd stint at rehab get him sober and a subsequent surgery that reduced his chronic pain.

  17. I am a nurse. We do urine drug screens on anyone who comes in confused or after an MVA. Lots come in with combos, coke/benzos/opiates with maybe alcohol and amphetamines, at the same time. Coke/amphetamines is usually the younger people, under 40. Older folks have a little bit different profile, with prescription meds and alcohol being common, often prescription opiates. THC across the board.

    We see the people in their 60s who fit this profile are on their ways out. They look much older than their age, and their bodies are just crapping out. It looks like an unpleasant way to go to me, but I guess they had fun while they lasted.

    Regarding what someone above said about prescription opiates, well, you will be in neverending pain as long as you keep taking opiates! You simply won't get better. Lots and lots of research has been done on chronic pain, and the upshot is that opiates are the worst thing you can do about it. Bluntly, Tylenol is the number one best long term pain med. It's sad, we have almost nothing that does much good for chronic pain. Yes, opiates give you a brief reduction in pain, but you simply never heal right as long as you keep going back to opiates.

  18. A problem not mentioned, that I've encountered, is that employers are not following the mandated procedures required by the Code of Federal Regulations concerning drug tests and, despite complaints, the FMCSA and DOT are letting them get by with it. If a driver doesn't go along he's labeled a user and fired.

  19. @Grumpy, while I would like to agree with you, Tom points out another factor that is in play here, horrible management of prescription painkillers.

    I have a friend (for now) who was in horrible pain for years and prescribed ever increasing levels of painkillers, until the root problem was identified and surgery addressed it. At that point she had been prescribed so much that at one point the pharmacy refused to fill the prescription because it was a lethal dose.

    Instead of then weaning her off as part of her recovery, they told her one day that the rules had changed and those opiates were no longer being prescribed, no help, she was just on her own. She struggled for a while and then fell into going to the illegal drug dealers to try and get something to manage the addiction (and was successful and tapering off for a short while). But the quality control issues, and the problems with making your peers be part of the drug scene have left her headed down a very bad road.

    The mismanagement of prescriptions and opiates over the last decade have made the problem far worse than it should have been.

  20. Tom Bridgeland

    Agree completely. I’m a MD, both Emergency and Primary, working with a lot of “underinsured” (=no full time job). So many are smoking weed daily.
    Actually saw a patient who didn’t start meth until 60. Guess they thought they’d have more energy to get stuff done.
    Unfortunately for those on chronic daily narcotics, the amount of time to counsel you to accept the evidence that the narcotics made your pain worse and need to be cut back doesn’t fit into the 10 minutes allowed for your appointment by the clinic system CEO that is making more than all 2 doctors and 2 nurse practitioners and 2 PAs at the clinic you go to. So, now your insurance sweeps in and says you can’t get more than “X” pills per month. The modern medical system isn’t good for doctors, or patients, but the suits love it.

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