Psychostimulants is a term that refers to a group of illicit drugs that stimulate the central nervous system by augmenting dopaminergic and noradrenergic activity levels. They are never given as prescription drugs and have no clinical value. They are simply drugs that are abused by drug users because they give a temporary sense of euphoria or well-being.
The saliva drug test and the urine drug test can detect these drugs during blanket and random drug testing. Unfortunately it is the employee’s behaviour that first signals the fact that an illicit drug is being used because the employee becomes aggressive. In some cases the drug user may become hostile or even violent due to the psychosis-like reactions.
Employers are often not prepared to deal with a person that is experiencing the full effects of illicit drugs and especially when the person acts erratically. The typical types of employee physical and mental responses to the use of psychostimulants include but are not limited to:1
- Speech that is loud and difficult to understand
- Impulsive and risky behaviour
- Clenching of the jaw or hands
- Heavy sweating
- Fear, panic or paranoia
Psychostimulants include cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and amphetamine. It is when so much drug is consumed that it becomes toxic that behaviour can turn aggressive or violent. This drug level is called ‘acute psychostimulant toxicity’ and when a person reaches that point their behaviour can become unpredictable and dangerous. This is treated first as a medical emergency by the police and that is the same approach an employer should use.
Not everyone who uses psychostimulants will become aggressive or present a challenging situation. The people most likely to exhibit this type of behaviour have been aggressive in the past or are using other drugs at the same time. It is common for serious drug users to combine multiple drugs like cocaine and cannabis or meth and benzodiazepines. The violent person may be experiencing psychosis and is lashing out as a result of mental confusion and fear. Some people have many difficult issues in their lives and the psychostimulants unleash their anxiety or fear.
When employers find themselves confronting aggressive or violent employees, it’s important to realize that the person may be hallucinating and is not hearing or seeing you in a normal manner. It’s also important to understand that preserving personal safety and the safety of the employee and co-workers is of the utmost importance. The first goal is to defuse the situation and to calm the person if possible and to get the person away from hazardous equipment or materials. Medical emergency services should be called because the body temperature can rise to lethal levels during acute psychostimulant toxicity. If it looks as if the situation will become uncontrollable, the police should be notified.
A person experiencing psychosis has hallucinations, is delusional, cannot maintain a normal thought process, and/or exhibits bizarre behaviour. The employer, if comfortable doing so, can attempt to calm the person using a non-threatening tone of voice and an open body posture. As soon as possible, you will want to convince the person to go to a different room away from other people and the work location.3
- Don’t raise your voice or respond in anger even if the worker shouts
- Avoid using the word “no” or negative language
- As calm questions that show concern and understanding
- Use the person’s name frequently
- Don’t say anything negative or upsetting
- Don’t personally attack the person
The Australian police undergo training specifically for dealing with persons using psychostimulants who become aggressive. Amphetamine use in Australia is growing. The Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence reports that drug seizures for amphetamines grew tenfold from 1996-97 to 2001-02 which was from 156 kg to 1.8 tonnes.2
A quality workplace drug testing program will detect psychostimulant use at the time of testing, but the employer also needs to be aware of behaviours that indicate drug use in between blanket and random test times. Many times there are early signs a worker is using drugs if you know what to look for in terms of behaviours. The drug and alcohol procedures should address early detection of drug use and proper responses in the event of a drug induced emergency.
CMM Technology at http://cmm.com.au/index.php offers consulting services and a full line of drug and alcohol testing equipment like the Oraline saliva test for on-site drug testing.
1. Jenner, L and N Lee (2008). Responding to Challenging Situations Related to the Use of Psychostimulants – A Practical Guide for Frontline Workers. Retrieved May 22, 2011, from Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra: http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/Publishing.nsf/content/07FF9B0DE1B39D7ECA25764D0080C854/$File/chall.pdf
2. National Drug Strategy. (2004). Psychostimulants – Management of Behavioural Disturbances. Retrieved May 22, 2011, from Australian Government National Drug Strategy: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/Content/psychostimulant-police