How Cocaine & Meth boomed in the oilfields of Texas
When Joe Forsythe returned to the West Texas oilfields last year after a stint in a drug rehab facility, he figured he had beaten his addiction to methamphetamine.
The 32-year-old rig worker and equipment handler lasted about a year before relapsing.
“It’s easy to get back into that mentality,” said Forsythe, of Midland, Texas, who said he no longer uses drugs after several stints in rehab since 2015. “I’d work 24 hours … I was just plagued with fatigue and needed something to improve my work ethic.”
Forsythe’s experience and others like it reflect a painful flipside of the nation’s shale oil boom—a parallel increase in substance abuse, drug crime and related social ills.
While drug use is a problem among industrial workers nationwide, it raises particular concern in the oil patch as U.S. production surges to record levels in what is already one of the nation’s most dangerous sectors—with a fatality rate about three times the average for other industries, according to 2015 federal statistics.
Drug use is a significant factor in workplace injuries and crimes involving oilfield workers, according to drug counselors, hospital and police officials and court records in West Texas, the epicenter of the U.S. shale sector.
As the shale revolution has spawned waves of hiring since 2010, law enforcement authorities have tracked a boom in drug trafficking and related crime. In Midland and Ector counties, home to many Permian Basin oil workers, state and local police in 2016 seized more than 95 pounds of methamphetamine—up from less than four pounds in 2010.