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Amphetamines abuse in the workplace

Often, staying awake and alert is an everyday struggle among people who work very late and long hours. To do just that, many workers load up on coffee.

Some people, however, resort to stronger stimulants like amphetamines. With a chemical structure that closely resembles adrenaline, amphetamines can keep people awake for long periods of time. There are, however, several other effects that can spell disaster in a workplace setting.

In this article, we provide you with an overview of amphetamines, their effects, the impact of amphetamines in the workplace, and how to manage amphetamine abuse at work. 

What are amphetamines?

Amphetamines are a class of psychostimulant drugs that work by stimulating the central nervous system, suppressing the appetite, and increasing the production of certain chemicals in the body. Members of this class include amphetamine (which can be in the form of dexamphetamine or in the recreational form of ‘speed’). Ecstasy (MDMA) and – the most potent of all – methylamphetamine (methamphetamine).

True ‘amphetamine’ takes its name from alpha-methyl-phenethylamine, and in the form of dexamphetamine (or d-amphetamine) is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, when abused or overused, it can result in serious health consequences.

Amphetamine comes in various forms, including tablets, capsules, powder, crystals, and red liquid. Amphetamine is commonly consumed by swallowing, smoking, or injecting into the bloodstream. It can also be snorted or sniffed through the nose. 

According to the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 5.8% of the Australian population aged 14 and over has consumed amphetamines at some point in their life.

Effects of amphetamines on the body

Belonging to the stimulants category, amphetamine use may:  

  • Increase breathing and heart rate, often leading to palpitations and raised blood pressure
  • Increase energy, confidence, and alertness
  • Decrease critical judgement and self-appraisal, leading to increased risk-taking behaviour which can have serious consequences
  • Cause emotional lability, with bouts of anxiety, irritability even violent outbursts for no apparent reason
  • Reduce appetite or the desire to consume food and drink.

Frequent consumption, higher dosage, and overdose of any member of the amphetamine class, including actual amphetamine can result in more serious and even fatal conditions. The long-term and severe side effects of the drug include:

  • Brain damage, such as reduced memory function and mental impairment
  • Paranoia, even full-blown psychosis
  • Damaged immune system 
  • Long-term sleep disorders 
  • Malnutrition
  • Anxiety, tension, and violence
  • Heart failure, seizures, and stroke.

The impact of amphetamines at work

When taken at prescribed doses for ADHD or sleeping disorders like narcolepsy, amphetamines do not have significant impairment effects.

Amphetamines work by stimulating the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, especially in the brain’s reward centres. When used for frequent and prolonged periods, amphetamines can lead to the death of these dopamine-releasing neurones, leading to serious and potentially irreversible brain injury.

The use of amphetamines can also trigger blurred vision and dizziness, as well as increased distractibility, which could be highly dangerous if the impaired worker is operating heavy equipment or driving a vehicle.

What to do about amphetamines in the workplace

The first step to protect your business from amphetamines is to develop a drug and alcohol policy and procedure. This provides a solid foundation from which to combat the problem. 

For the policy to be effective, it must contain provisions for a drug awareness and education program and drug and alcohol testing regimens.

Amphetamine testing

Testing for amphetamine in the workplace is one of the best ways to keep your employees safe, healthy, and productive. 

The most common amphetamines testing methods are:

  • Urine drug testing – This is the most common method of amphetamine testing. Amphetamines are detectable in urine 2-5 hours after use and can be detected for as long as four days after use. The amphetamine detection window in urine covers the period of amphetamine-associated impairment.
  • Oral fluid drug testing – This least-invasive method of amphetamine testing can detect the drug 5-10 minutes after use and stays detectable for up to 2 (or at markedly high doses, nearly 3) days. Unfortunately, the detection window for amphetamine in oral fluid only covers half the impairment period.
  • Hair follicle drug testing – More expensive than both urine and saliva testing, hair testing can detect amphetamines 10 to 14 days after use, and the detection window (the period during which drug use can be detected) can be up to 90 days or longer. 

Learn more

Safework Health can help you keep your workplace safe from drugs and alcohol. Contact us today for a confidential discussion.


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