Drug Use in the Permian: Substance Abuse Advocates Look to Help Oil Workers
[Editor's Note: This is the third installment in a three-part series exploring the working and living conditions for employees in the Permian.]
Employment opportunities in West Texas’ oilfields are plentiful, but aside from six-figure salaries lies a more sobering reality.
Christopher Pierce, director of marketing for The Springboard Center, an alcohol and drug treatment facility in Midland, has held his position for four months, but worked at Springboard for three years.
“We get a lot of clients who work in the oilfield because of where we’re located,” Pierce said during an interview with Rigzone at Springboard’s housing facility.
Pierce, 35, can relate to many of the people who walk through the doors of Springboard because he also worked in the oilfield … and he’s a former client.
In the video below, he recounts his struggle with addiction.
Drug and alcohol abuse has become part of an often known, but rarely openly discussed subculture in the oilfield where workers are using substances to help them get through grueling working conditions.
Kayla Fishbeck, regional evaluator for Prevention Resource Center Region 9, a data repository for 30 counties in West Texas and a part of the Permian Basin Regional Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, prefers to acquire qualitative data through interviews because numbers can often be underestimated or not completely telling of the full story.
“Regarding the oilfield and drug testing centers, the consistent story is that contractors and those who have to work long shifts, overnight or going for 24 hours will use ‘uppers’ to keep them awake – such as cocaine and methamphetamines – and then end their shift with a ‘downer’ such as alcohol or prescription medications,” Fishbeck told Rigzone. “In Region 9, the most screened drug last year was amphetamines and that was largely in the oilfield.”
Other substance issues in the oilfield include opioid abuse and marijuana and alcohol use, she said.
“Midland and Odessa are the top two cities in Texas for drunken driving fatalities,” said Fishbeck. “We hear stories of guys getting off their shift, getting a six-pack or 12-pack on their way home and start drinking in their truck.”
Tough jobs in the oilfield are also the cause of some aches and pains among workers, and the chance of them getting hooked on prescription pain relievers and highly addictive opioids is common.
“We have two methadone clinics between Midland and Odessa and they have 241 beds,” said Fishbeck. “They tell me they get calls every day for people seeking treatment and have to put people on a waitlist. So between the two cities, they are taking care of about 250 people daily.”
Fishbeck said when asked if most of them were oilfield workers, she was told that many of them are, but also family members of those whom work in the oilfield, like wives.
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