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Ice abuse in the workplace

Australia has one of the highest rates of Ice drug use in the world. A report from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (2022) shows Australia ranked highest in Ice use per capita compared with 24 countries.

According to the 2019 National Drug Household Survey, Ice is the second most frequently used drug in Australia after cannabis, with 29% of users using it at least weekly. 

A slang term commonly used to refer to crystal methamphetamine or meth, Ice is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is often used by workers to keep them awake. 

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

What is Ice?

Ice is the crystal form of methamphetamine hydrochloride. Methamphetamine (its technical name is methyl-amphetamine) is a strong stimulant, euphoria-inducing drug of the same class as amphetamine (speed) but is very much more potent. In its crystal form, methamphetamine is a very powerfully addictive drug with 85% of regular users becoming addicted – compare this with heroin which has an addiction rate of only 12%. 

Like all amphetamines, Ice works by stimulating the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. The dopamine surge it causes ensures that a user’s judgement and behaviour, motor control, attention and working memory are significantly impaired for up to 3 to 4 days after use. 

Unlike amphetamine, which causes a moderate release of the neurotransmitter, the dopamine surge triggered by Ice is sudden and massive, flooding the brain’s ‘reward centres’ leading rapidly to dependency and addiction. So powerful is the dopamine surge that, after long-term or high-dose use, it can lead to extensive death of the dopamine-secreting neurones in the brain, causing an irreversible Parkinson’s-disease like neurological disorder. 

Ice is also known as crystal, crystal meth, glass, or shabu.

Taking a closer look at Ice

Ice can be identified as either a large sheet-like crystal or in the form of crystalline powder. It can be clear-coloured or appear in a variety of colours. 

Ice can be smoked, injected directly into the bloodstream, snorted, or swallowed.

Also referred to as a club drug, Ice is a potent chemical that is dangerous to the health of the user. It initially acts as a stimulant but eventually becomes a poison that destroys the body through frequent use.

Effects of Ice on the body

The effect of Ice consumption on the body is dependent on several factors including, the amount consumed, the mixture with other drugs, the individual’s history of drug use, and the environment in which the drug is taken.

Compared to other illicit substances, Ice causes a longer period of impairment in the user. A person can remain seriously impaired for days after taking the drug. At low doses, there is a marked propensity for risk-taking, with a substantially higher willingness to take risks associated with an unrealistically rosy self-appraisal of one’s own performance – independent of underlying personality type. At higher doses, users express wildly overexaggerated confidence in their abilities, often actively seeking out risks and a strong disregard for those around them.

Some of the short-term effects of the drug include blurred vision, loss of appetite, severe mood swings, unpredictable behaviour, change in sleeping patterns, elevated blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and tremors or convulsions. These effects can take hold within 30 minutes of the drug entering the body. The acute effects can last up to 12 to 24 hours, but long-term impairment, including defective judgment and wild behaviour, can continue for 4 days after a single episode of use.

As dopamine levels fluctuate, Ice users frequently experience extreme mood swings including very violent irascibility, aggressive behaviour and frank paranoia, which can lead to psychosis among some users. Outbursts of senseless violence are common.

When taken regularly and in large amounts, Ice consumption can result in more disturbing and serious conditions. Users’ experiences include having the feeling of bugs crawling on the skin, body sores due to constant scratching and picking of the skin, chronic sleeping problems, increased strain on the kidneys, hallucinations, brain damage, psychosis, stroke, and even coma.

Making matters worse, Ice is associated with a withdrawal syndrome which is especially marked in long-term, frequent, or high-dose users. It is marked by varying degrees of depression, irritability and rebound fatigue (often marked by extreme sleepiness) which can last for a few weeks.

The impact of Ice at work

As a stimulant, Ice is popular among workers who need to be more alert while working longer hours. 

The problem with Ice at work, however, is the effects of the drug on the user, such as blurred vision, tremors, and unpredictable behaviour. These effects can seriously disrupt work performance, increase tardiness and absenteeism, and compromise the health and safety of the user and everyone else in the workplace. 

As a marker of how dangerous Methamphetamine is at work, it should be noted that low-dose Ice-using drivers have a 300% greater accident rate per mile driven than non-users – largely due to the high rate of risk-taking and impaired sleep, and the effect markedly worsens with higher doses.

There could also be financial and legal ramifications for the business. 

Signs of Ice drug abuse

Ice drug abuse has many visible signs and symptoms, which may include: 

  • Weight loss
  • Tremors and a loss of fine motor control, leading to uncontrolled twitching in long-term users 
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Sores, abscesses on the skin from injecting meth and picking at it
  • Rotting teeth/tooth loss, also known as meth mouth
  • Hyperactivity, distractibility, inability to focus
  • Unstable moods
  • Psychosis and paranoia
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Dark circles under the eyes, often due to insomnia.

What to do about Ice use in the workplace

Developing and implementing a written drug and alcohol policy and procedure remains the top solution for any Ice-at-workplace concerns you may have. The policy should include a drug education and awareness program and a drug testing program.

Ice drug testing

To determine if an employee has used Ice, the following drug testing methods can be used:

  • Urine drug test – A urine test can detect Ice and its metabolites up to 4 days after the drug has been used, which covers the period of impairment due to Ice use.
  • Oral fluid (saliva) drug test – Fast, accurate, and easy to use. Oral fluid testing detects actual traces of Ice in saliva rather than its metabolites. The detection window is around 2 days after use, which will cover much but not all of the period of impairment due to Ice use. Less invasive, oral fluid testing is becoming more common for Ice drug testing.
  • Hair follicle drug test – Hair testing can detect methamphetamine 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

Keep your staff and company safe from Ice and other drugs. Contact us today for a confidential discussion.


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