Before we launch into our article for this month - in which I promise you will learn much - I would like to do something a little out of order. As many of you know, Jim Wilder, who edited this magazine, recently retired. I wanted to say just a few words to thank him for all he has meant to me.

Jim and I first met back in 1988 at a trade show. Like me, Jim has been a student and participant in this market of ours for many years. We immediately enjoyed talking all things vehicular. Before you knew it, he had recruited me to begin this column. When I think back to all of the columns, the Undercar Expos and the rest, I cannot help but smile. And, to work with the likes of Jim, Les, Michelle, Bobby, Ed Hansen, Gary Sifford and so many more great MD Publications people for so many years has indeed been a blessing for me. I thank you, Jim, for your trust and belief and now your friendship!

When Jim retired, I wondered what would become of me. Well, riding in on his horse in a cloud of dust on the prairie (that one’s for you Jim) comes this guy Joe Henmueller. Well, turns out he’s running 5w30 in his blood system, too. Jim shared that he holds a great deal of respect for Joe. I can already tell I will enjoy being part of the team. So, the good news and the bad news is that it appears you’re stuck with me for the meantime. And I also know Joe and I will soon become good friends too. The blessings continue and I am thankful!

On to this month’s regularly scheduled program.

The title suggests that your shop may indeed be infected by what has become a national plague. Namely, drugs. And if that’s so, you may be putting your shop on the line and the safety of others in the shop in jeopardy, all the while losing productivity, customer service and profits. You may find thefts of tools and supplies. And sooner or later, you may well lose your coveted customers.

And in case your business isn’t enough to be concerned about, what you learn in this article may save a loved one. Many abusing drugs are very good at hiding their use.

The subject for this series came to me via one of my sons. A couple of years ago he finished a Ph.D. in physiology, studying the effects of medication on the brain. He is now in the second year of his M.D. program and has spent time working at one of our busier hospitals in the emergency department. He has helped me sort out this subject and understand its impact on society. There are some effects of drug abuse and overdoses that just can’t be cured!

I suspect you may be thinking to yourself that I am just another fake news writer who has piggybacked on a popular media subject. Before you go there, I ask you to consider that there are likely more deaths in your local county from drug abuse and overdose than there are deaths due to vehicle accidents. In addition, here’s some factual data from the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Justice, Recovery Village, National Institute of Drug Abuse, NPR and others:

You likely have a fairly young crew at your shop. More than 90% of those who are using drugs began prior to the age of eighteen. So, their habits are well ingrained when they show up at your door with some tools. This is not a simple issue to solve. It comes from a past of use and addiction.

In 2017, at least 130 people died of opioid abuse every day. More than 11 million abused opioids. More than 2 million began abusing opioids for the first time. More than 40% of opioid deaths involved prescribed medicines, generally for pain relief. Many young people get started by abusing their parent or sibling’s medicines that are readily available at home. Opioids include medicines like Tramadol, Fentanyl and others. In addition, there is heroin, which has found new acceptance in the most posh of neighborhoods due to its relatively low cost.

Just because you live out in the country somewhere and work in in a rural shop doesn’t mean you are not plagued by drug abuse. Consider the drug “Meth,” its full name being Methamphetamine. This drug, known to “turn your brain into cheese,” is most popular in rural areas. The largest abuser groups are found in the Midwest and East. The number one “user state” in the U.S. according to a variety of reports is Indiana. And the rural areas lead the way. This drug is once again becoming more popular. As U.S. based “Meth Labs” closed due to unavailability of the basic ingredients to cook the Meth, and law enforcement got better at finding and shutting the labs down, the production of the medication moved to Mexico. There, the labs are much larger, and the drug less expensive. Sadly, to really make this an issue, there are no medications with which to treat the addiction like there are for other abused substances. The DOJ states that in 2017, there were 897,000 users and 5,716 deaths related to Meth.

Marijuana: I will not even attempt to wade into this one from a personal point of view. But, there is adequate and verifiable research proving that regular use of pot affects driving, likely causes long-term cognitive memory losses, and frequently impairs short-term memory. Some of the issue results from pot being stronger today than ever. In the 1990’s, THC (the active ingredient in pot) comprised only 3.8% of the compound. By the 2000’s, it had increased to 12.2%, and continues to grow in share. Maybe scarier, is that pot is sometimes “laced” with chemicals such as embalming fluid, formaldehyde or PCP (known on the street as Angel Dust). Drug suppliers lace it to make for better affects, heavier weights and other reasons. Incidentally, as of the research, 10 states have legalized pot for nearly any use, 35 states for “medicinal” use. So, it’s likely in your shop right now. Remember that the next time an employee test-drives a car, or the customer leaves with a critical repair. We won’t get into the entire gateway drug argument today.

Cocaine is the second-most abused drug in the U.S., behind pot. According to an article in the Washington Post, 968,000 people tried cocaine for the first time in 2015, way up from prior years. There are 400,000+ acres of coca growing fields in Columbia alone. And, cocaine is frequently laced as well. Added ingredients are Fentanyl, laundry detergent, baking soda, Procaine/Lidocaine, ammonia and others. Not good stuff!

Other drugs abused in the U.S. include things like depressants (760,000 estd), hallucinogens (330,000 estd) such as LSD and others, inhalants (160,000 estd) such as model glue, hair spray and others.

I am sorry about this detailed and very depressing overview. And we haven’t even included alcohol in this list, the most popular of all abused substances. However, this is a critical issue we all face.

Walk over to the window or door and look out into your shop. Safe to say you’ll see younger people. When one considers what pressures they are facing, it takes away the breath. And, that may well include your son or daughter. Opioid prescription abuse is up a bunch in the middle and upper age groups too.

What are we to do? In many ways, employee law ties our hands. We can’t just waltz out into the shop and accuse someone that we suspect is abusing drugs and tell them they need to hit the road. That’s called a wrongful discharge lawsuit and likely governmental sanctions in the making. And, we’ve all watched the parade of certain law firms more than happy to sue us on behalf of someone that may feel harmed.

Take heart, there is a process that we are legally able to employ, that may create a better employee for our or another shop, and a more productive and happier person. But, it must be handled with sensitivity and input from your legal professionals. As I have said many times, and say again, “I ain’t no lawyer” and I am not providing legal advice, just a starting point.

Consider what happens if this is done right and one uses the tools available addressing this issue in our shop:
• Happier, more productive, more profitable tech
• Likely reduced theft
• Better repairs
• Better thru time
• Better relationships with our valued customers
• Solving multiple shop issues since one user tends to hang with another
• Likely a better home life for the tech
• And if all of that’s not important enough, you may very well be helping to save a life!

Next month we’ll go into detail about signs and symptoms someone addicted to drugs tends to exhibit. At a point, all of the lying and charisma in the world can’t hide these issues. We’ll detail the process for dealing with the employee(s) in our shop in a sensitive, systematic, well-planned approach.

Let’s face it, we are all shop owners that need to make a buck to keep the doors open. We are not social service agencies. We do not need to carry employees that are not contributing to the shop’s operations or success. But, we are people. We do care about others. Most shop owners I know would jump at a chance to help a struggling crew member who is in over their heads with drug abuse. We just need a sane, rational, planned and typically proven way to try.

And, I’ve said it twice, now a third time. The life you may impact, and likely save, may well be your own kids, a spouse, a relative or others close to you. Be sure you dial in again next month!

And Joe, thank you for your kind welcome to me. Michelle and Bobby, thanks for keeping me around. Jim, keep on writing those Westerns. If you haven’t had a chance to give one a read, do it soon! That Jim guy can really write a mean novel! And, thank you for being such a good friend for so many years.