Is Your Car Filled With Drugs? No, But the Line Worker Who Built It Might Be

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
is your car filled with drugs no but the line worker who built it might be

The American automotive industry is facing a problem that has nothing to do with supplier relations or regulatory handicaps. Apparently, domestic auto workers are getting addicted to drugs at an alarming rate. As a Michigan native, my childhood frequently included evenings at the local bowling alley where shop rats would go to tip back a few after the end of their shift. But, with the exception of an occasional “funny smelling cigarette,” you never really heard about anyone having troubles with more illicit substances.

However that’s exactly what the Detroit Three appear to be faced with, according to George Washington, an employee-assistance representative for General Motors. Washington claims line workers are becoming addicted to opioids and even crystal meth at a frequency that’s causing concern.

“It’s not alcohol, it’s not marijuana now. You’re dealing with meth, you’re dealing with the opioids, you’re dealing with the heroin,” Washington, a former addict who started at GM in 1977, told Automotive News in an interview. “It’s starting to show up more and more at the automakers’ doorsteps.”

“[Manufacturers are] going through a transition with all the buyouts and the changing of the guard, which means there is a lot of people retiring … we’re getting a work force now of a lot of younger people who are experiencing different drugs.”

While companies have implemented recovery programs to help workers cope with drug use and mental health issues, most programs aren’t necessarily equipped to handle the challenges associated with severe addition. There is also a different stigma surrounding drugs like meth or heroin and some employees would rather stay silent than risk outing themselves as an addict.

In Flint, Michigan, UAW Local 598 puts on Soberfest — an annual picnic that celebrates plant workers who have overcome substance abuse while also providing resources for those still coping with addiction. Washington is a regular fixture at the event, which is now in its 23rd year.

“This opioid addiction is one of the worst addictions I have ever seen,” Washington said. “It’s so tricky, it’s so powerful. They’ll go in, they’ll get clean. But then when the bottom falls out, it’s one of the most painful I’ve ever seen. They’re suicidal, they feel they’ve let everybody down, they feel they’ve let themselves down. I think it’s a lot more difficult to recover from.”

While younger employees may be at a higher risk for meth use, its the older employees that might end up accidentally addicted to pain killers. The assembly line remains a demanding place and long hours can contribute to injuries that develop over the years. I know of at least two retired GM employees who were prescribed opioids by a physician to cope with back pain late in their careers, which ultimately resulted in dependency.

“They’re doing eight, 11 hours a day,” said Kevin Bush, an employee support representative at Ford’s Louisville Assembly Plant in Kentucky. “Assembly work is very boring, very tedious. That kind of work causes many aches and pains in their body. Maybe they have a pain and the doctor prescribes opioids. And over a period of time the use of that creates a high tolerance and an addiction. And one thing leads to another and it gets worse.”

Unfortunately, a lot of the information surrounding the problem is anecdotal. Everyone knows someone, or someone’s friend, who has had trouble with drugs and who also happened to be employed by an automaker. That’s not enough to definitively call this an epidemic. Some legitimate research needs to be done if the problem is to be addressed in earnest. But we do know that drugs are a problem in the U.S. and making them illegal hasn’t kept addiction or distribution at bay.

The Center for Disease Control cites drug overdoses at the leading cause of unintentional deaths for Americans under the age of 50. Over 64,070 people in the U.S. died from substance abuse in 2016 — representing a 21-percent increase from 2015. The National Center for Health Statistics attributes the majority of those fatalities to opioid usage with 15,446 deaths attributed to heroin, 14,427 to opioid pills and 20,145 from synthetic versions of heroin.

Meanwhile, only 37,461 people died as a result of car accidents, which is currently the second highest cause of accidental death in the United States.

[Image: General Motors]

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  • 2drsedanman 2drsedanman on Nov 27, 2017

    Last month was my 28th anniversary of being a healthcare professional. I remember distinctly when Medicare, Medicaid, and physician/nursing professions began pushing for "pain" to be the fifth vital sign. You wouldn't believe how big a consolidated effort was put forth to institute this measure. When patient satisfaction scores/monetary reimbursement became part of the equation, it was easy to see how this was going to get out of control quickly. And once second, third, and fourth generation analgesics came on board, the push was there to prescribe them. When you combine these medications with the ability to get a 90 day supply at one time (you know, to save money), it is no wonder more and more people are dying of overdoses. Unfortunately, this is a toothpaste is out of the tube scenario.

    • See 2 previous
    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Nov 28, 2017

      @2drsedanman- There are many things that can cause pain and therefore there are many treatment options. Following the world health organization's pain ladder is one way to minimize abuse/misuse. Another is to rely more on pain management experts. As you have pointed out, too many look at a quick fix which also happens to be the most profitable option for Big Pharma and Doctors. That is one reason why I feel "for profit" health care systems aren't the most effective way to deliver health care. Patients often aren't in a position to refuse service or shop around. They have to trust their care providers and that trust is abused in the name of profit.

  • Montecarl Montecarl on Nov 29, 2017

    Just say no!!! Lock them all up!!! Let the prison system deal with there drug use....... Is that what they did to a certain sector people in the 80s What is the difference now..

  • CaddyDaddy Coney Island in Bailey, Colorado off of US 285. Man oh man, Caddy Daddy could use a Chicago Dog, side of fries and a root beer. Good Times!
  • MaintenanceCosts Imagine that... the OEM that doesn't make absurd false claims about "Full Self-Driving" and that doesn't release beta software onto public streets gets better treatment from the regulator.
  • MaintenanceCosts Yes, yes, balance, quick turn-in, working the gears, blah, blah.I'm sorry, none of it is convincing. A 3-series needs two more cylinders than this so that it doesn't sound like a Jetta on $199/month special.
  • MaintenanceCosts Is Stellantis capable of making a product for the American market without embarrassing levels of over-the-top fake machismo?
  • Philip This raises two questions for me:[list=1][*]What happens to all of the chargepoint that we have installed at our homes? Do those all have to be replaced?[/*][*]What happens to all of the billions of dollars from the federal government being spent on non-tesla ports at wal-marts and pilot service centers? [/*][/list=1]