HONOLULU - Hawaii leads the nation in methamphetamine use among its work force, according to a new study by a major drug testing company.
In millions of test samples analyzed in 2010, Hawaii had a dramatic lead - 410 percent greater than the national average - in tests coming up positive for the highly addictive drug stimulant, according to a Quest Diagnostics study obtained by The Associated Press.
Quest was expected to release today the first state-by-state analysis of urine specimens collected from workplaces across the country.
Arkansas followed Hawaii at 280 percent higher than the national average of one positive out of every 1,000 tests. Oklahoma had the third highest rate at 240 percent higher than the national average.
A regional analysis of five-year data from the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index shows a new trend emerging in meth use.
"Just looking at the national averages doesn't tell the whole story," said Dr. Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. "The western half of the country has consistently faced dramatically higher methamphetamine prevalence than the nation as a whole. Our data reflect a pervasive national challenge, and suggest that the substance may be spreading eastward into the Midwest and South."
While meth seems to be making an eastward migration and there have been recent reports of meth lab busts in New York and Georgia, the East Coast remains insulated from dramatically high prevalence rates, Sample said. New York was 100 percent below the national average in 2010, along with Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Hawaii has continued to be the state with the highest national average, despite a 26.1 percent decline from 2006. "Hawaii was lagging the rest of the country in some of those changes we saw," Sample said of an overall drop of 44 percent during 2006 to 2010 in positive meth tests nationwide.
Hawaii's service economy and high cost of living puts workers at greater risk for meth use, said Dr. William Haning, a psychiatry professor at the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine. Employees from hotel workers to carpenters to restaurant staff have been known to become so-called functional users, taking the drug in an effort to work longer, harder and multiple jobs.
"If you're doing mind-numbing, repetitive work, this enables you to overcome both the painful tedium of the boredom as well as increase concentration and safety," he said, noting the severe pitfalls including depression, hallucination and cardiac risk.
But the idea of using a stimulant to be a better worker isn't only a function of today's economy. Laborers working in hypoxic conditions in the Andes Mountains of Peru have long chewed on cocoa leaves, Haning said. The practice of using meth to work harder also emerged among garment and field workers in California.
Others, from students to executives, are also turning to meth for a competitive edge.
"The attorney who is taking on too many clients, the prosecutor who is working long hours. It's not just the service folks," he said. "Any of these medication-assisted efforts to get through the workday is an unfortunate pact with the devil."