SPECIAL REPORT: Meth in the work place

Published: Nov. 1, 2011 at 10:06 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 2, 2011 at 10:15 AM HST
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By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Hina Mauka rehab clinic, Alfred Hoopii stocks the urine cups clients will use to prove they are staying drug free.

He used them, too, before he beat his addiction to crystal methamphetamine. "It's evil," he said. "It's really evil."

That evil was a $100 a-week habit and a $400 stash that never ran out. His job at Honolulu International Airport paid the bill. He was trusted. But more often than not he was also high on "ice."

"I was a really good worker. I did what needed to be done. But because I was productive in what I did, they never thought anything was wrong," he said.

What is wrong is Hawaii's addiction.

The 50th State is number one in the U.S. in meth use in the work place. Studies say scores of people are working under the influence of crystal meth.

"You'll hear over and over again about how somebody can't have a drug or an alcohol problem because he's doing fine on the job. But the fact is the job is the last thing that ends up going," said Dr. Bill Haning, who helps recovering "ice" addicts.

They tell him availability and cost made meth easy to get, and initially it made them more productive.

"I would be lying to folks to say that that initial sense of benefit isn't there," Haning said.

Hoopii said at first the crystal meth in his system helped him focus on his tasks. But then the crash came and his good employment record nosedived.

"It came bad to a point to where I would call up and say, 'You know what? I'm not feeling well. I'm sick.' But all through that call I was actually using at the same time," he said.

He eventually lost his job.

The Hawaii Meth Project advocates prevention. Program director Joe Perez isn't surprised Hawaii's workplace meth use is 410 percent higher than the national average.

"I think it goes right in line with the even worse number, which is there's this $500 million cost impact for Hawaii every year. And the incidents of workplace accidents, lost productivity, etc., they're all a part of that," he said.

Diagnostic Laboratory Services tests urine samples for about 1,000 businesses. Its most recent report shows meth use at work up again after a drop last quarter.

"In my opinion the most important component is our proximity to where the crystal meth is originating, coming from Asia," said DLS scientific director of toxicology Carl Linden. "It's a west to east trend, and that seems to be borne out on national statistics on the mainland."

Hina Mauka's executive director Alan Johnson said one in three clients who seek help are addicted to "ice," and many of them got away with it while they were on the job.

"The nature of the drug and the chemical imbalance that it creates in your brain is going to lead you to the path of addiction. Then you're going to say, 'Oh, my God. How did I get here?'" he said.

Hoopii's addiction to meth lasted 16 years. It cost him his family and put him behind bars. He was on the road to ruin.

"I think I'd probably be dead right now because I'd be using until there was no more," he said.

Some experts feel it takes a year clean to break free of "ice." Some say it takes longer. All agree workplace meth use doesn't discriminate.

"It does cut across all professions," Haning said. "It is as democratic or equal opportunity a drug as any that I know."

"Seek treatment or look for help somewhere because there is help everywhere," Hoopii said.

He now works at Hina Mauka, and he is studying to be a substance abuse counselor. He wants to help others out of the trap he was in when crystal methamphetamine and his career went hand in hand.

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