The first installment in a six-part series by the South Bend Tribune on the illegal drug methamphetamine focused on use by factory workers, particularly RV industry production workers in Elkhart County, Ind.
Quoting several sources in the Elkhart County law enforcement and legal communities, along with former RV production-line employees, the Tribune found use of meth, also known as speed, to be commonplace among factory workers facing long hours amid a fast-paced work environment. The article ran yesterday (Sunday, July 18).
The newspaper noted that the drug produces a high-energy effect that lasts eight to 24 hours, citing information from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sources indicated that meth can be an energy enhancement in situations where laborers are under pressure to produce on a piece-rate basis.
According to the Tribune, the presidents of six RV manufacturing companies interviewed denied that methamphetamine or any drug is a problem among their work forces. One hesitantly acknowledged the problem.
“Any (manufacturing company) who tells you they don’t have a drug-use problem on break and lunch is lying,” said Bill Wargo, chief investigator at the Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “But I understand why they don’t admit it.”
Management spokesmen for Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Forest River Inc., Damon Corp., Jayco Inc., Coachmen Industries Inc., Keystone RV Co. and Recreation by Design all said they had never had incidents involving methamphetamine use or dealing among their employees.
Spokesmen for those companies cited policies of pre-employment drug testing, post-accident drug testing and monitoring based on reasonable suspicion, all meant to keep methamphetamine users out of their work forces.
“When you do drug screening, people obviously aren’t going to take a test if they know they are going to fail it,” said Gary Groom, president of Damon RV.
Based on management’s suspicions, Dutchmen President Rich Florea said his company requested that the county’s drug task force office help it deal with the issue. But no further action resulted, according to Florea, who argued that factory work doesn’t necessarily encourage drug use, as many meth users have claimed.
“I think to label (methamphetamine use) as part of the culture is wrong,” Florea said.
The company must deal with drug abuse the same as it must deal with the effects of other social problems, he said. He also said it’s logical that many methamphetamine addicts would have worked at some points in their lives in manufacturing because many people in general in the county work in manufacturing.
Elkhart County defense attorneys, Mark Doty, Juan Garcia Jr., Chris Crawford and Maryellen Baker-Scelsi, said many of their clients facing meth charges have worked in RV manufacturing.
“It’s more common than to just be a coincidence,” Garcia said of meth use in factories. “I don’t want to trash the RV industry, but it’s way beyond coincidental.”
Many clients reported beginning to use the drug while working in factories where pay was based on productivity and finishing a job meant going home earlier, attorneys said.
Margaret Miller, who speaks with many methamphetamine addicts as the certified therapist at the Elkhart County jail, said meth use will only decrease when the employers take stronger steps to ban it. “It’s like our factories are taking these people, chewing them up and spitting them out,” Miller said. “I don’t like that.”