Lines on the staff toilet cistern? A grad’s guide to workplace drug culture in NZ

By Katie Todd

Ahh, graduate employment. You’ve purchased shoes that require regular polishing and mastered the firm-but-friendly handshake. It’s time to transcend beyond a life of meticulous penny-pinching and wave goodbye to roller coaster sleep routines. The days of regular substance experimentation, mind-manipulation and debauchery are equally antiquated, right?

But what if your new manager has a crack pipe stashed within the bathroom wall? Or your new colleagues rail amphetamines to type faster and ensure their KPI rankings outshine yours? What if the Lisa’s Hummus at your boss’s Christmas function is served right alongside a hearty helping of psychoactives? It’s a notion which not so quietly mirrors the fictional Wolf of Wall Street, but according to a recent Drug and Alcohol Survey, an estimated 1 in 5 New Zealanders have now worked under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and workplace culture is under increasing blame for bolstering drug use in New Zealand.

By consulting several graduates, the freshest academic research, and the oh-so-liberal, heuristic learners of the Reddit community, I’m off to get the lowdown and discover – how high is the young New Zealand workforce?


Drugs for the d-floor


Upon investigation, it quickly became apparent to me that drugs pervade New Zealand workplace culture in two distinct forms. First are the after 5pm drugs – the let-loose, get wrecked, cut shapes or chill out kind of leisurely elixirs shared by workmates at their out-of-office congregations. These drugs, though not present within all workplaces, are generally in the green zone of casual discussion. Then there’s the narcotics swilled down with the morning Moccona or quietly smashed back on staff toilet cisterns just before clocking in. This variety is generally far too taboo for any inter-colleague discussion.

The former after 5pm drugs proved predictably easier to suss intel on. A 2013 Metro magazine investigation revealed that those front lining demand for cocaine in Auckland are the “fashion types, advertising execs, musos and media players.” And sure enough Sophie*, an Auckland advertising employee, informed me that “advertising agencies do have a reputation for big parties and nights out on coke.”

Among her colleagues, she’d heard of drugs being discussed “as a means of having fun and “letting loose” at a work function”.

Marketing guru Lauren* confirmed her Auckland workplace, too, features a “work hard, play hard,” attitude which bolsters drug use among colleagues.

“Drugs or illicit substances are used after the work day is done… the positives, in my opinion would be that there is a sense of camaraderie, that people like to socialise and bond over this ‘sneaky substance’.”

Logan* works for a company that carries out drug tests, but recounted a memorable experience from someone else’s workplace.
“My friend’s a singer so I got to go with him to this big kiwi muso party at a DJs house …when we walked in, there was a big green-tinted kind of glass bowl on the bench and I later realised it was literally full of pingas.”

And although some folks might froth over the very prospect of drugs being so readily available, Arthur*, who works in radio, confessed his disgruntlement towards the associated peer pressure that can occur.

“The people who don’t do the drugs are on the outside… you know, we’re way too old for that shit.

“I never really did drugs at uni but when I go out with (workmates) now, it’s kind of the norm to take drugs… I guess it makes for better water-cooler chit-chat or whatever after the weekend”.

Lauren also points out the emotional and physical toll of taking drugs socially.

“A little escapism is nice, but drugs are bad” she says, “I think the comedowns would be the worst. I did a heap of research on this. Apparently, it can take about two weeks to get your serotonin levels back to a normal baseline after taking MDMA on average. That’s just average…but,” she adds “peeps abuse it weekly.”


Drugs for the d-low (shhh) 


It appears some kiwis are also turning to drugs to manipulate their sensory input and output whilst at work – chiefly amphetamines, cannabis and BZP, according to the Ministry of Health. Whilst the estimated usage stats fluctuate from 3 per cent to 30 per cent of employees and it’s certainly not the subject of much “water cooler chit chat”, my interviewees had their suspicions.

“In a fast paced, deadline driven industry,” Sophie says, “I can only assume that individuals use drugs as a means of getting through the day.”

She reckons drugs may be sought for “increased concentration and ability to work longer hours,” but not without ugly longer-term effects.

“I’m not sure about my workplace,” says Lauren, “but I’ve heard through others and other workplaces that it is a necessary evil in order to have energy.” For her? “Coffee tends to do a good job.”

Arthur reckons “it kind of seems like an epidemic, people with harder days and longer hours are just hitting the drugs just to get through”.

The hands-on Reddit community were happy to expose their more… explicit experiences of drugs on the job. On one thread started by user heyeverybody69, I stumbled upon a complete smorgasbord of positive and negative experiences.

Some exhibited smug confidence with their life choices. One user claimed “using adderal with low tolerance while focused on a specific task with no distraction is just incredible, you get literally everything done and time just flies on it!” Judging from this users other answers – all equally enthusiastic! with! punctuation! – he’s still riding that adderal wave.

Another user also shared a positive experience from his time as the museum “IT guy”.

“I also microdosed LSD pretty much the whole year I worked there. It was stupid as fuck but no one noticed…. it was great.”

Then there were the so-so outcomes.

“I used to do valet parking,” says another user. “Took Ritalin for the first time before work, then a cup of coffee and a couple bumps of coke. I was getting every single car, talking to everyone, making people smile. I made good money… till I started to come down and started to feel like shit.”

And other users found themselves in a big old mess, including one for whom “adderal was my best friend in the word.”

“Every second day I would (end up in) this miserable state… my body and mind would work slower and slower but wouldn’t ever be able to stop for rest, because the addy, like a slave driver, would make them power through.”

Another user commented how they used drugs for their job working in cable television. “My narcotic of choice was a particularly seductive combination of codeine and the barbiturate butalbital. Five of those knocked back with some chocolate milk around 6.30am and a couple of bumps of coke in the car on the way to work would have me sauntering down long plastic hallways like Dean Martin on an ether jag….”

But he explains how the dream turned to deep doo-doos a few years later.

“I was taking painkillers in the morning solely to prevent junk sickness…my wife was ready to divorce me and my employer was ready to fire me.”


Who’s there to stop it?


For people like Massive Magazine interviewee Logan, drugs are an absolute impossibility, cheers to New Zealand’s largest drug testing agency. The Drug Detection Agency (TDDA) are most commonly seen parading the streets in fierce white Ford transit vans, armed with enough lashings of urine and oral fluid testing equipment to leave a drug-user quaking in their boots.

But drug detecting agencies like the TDDA only manage to get their latex gloves around the DNA of a small percentage of our country’s workforce in total. Though the exact figures are patchy, annual drug tests appear to affect few more than 100,000 individuals, the TDDA says, in New Zealand’s two million-strong workforce. Workplaces that do test usually involve manual labour, high public regard or safety sensitive areas, such as healthcare, transportation, construction, defence or law enforcement.

Logan says, “I don’t really mind the drug tests though. It’s not intrusive and if you have nothing to hide it’s no issue. My mates and I are all in the same boat so it’s allgeezy really”.

One reason for the lack of a ubiquitous take-up of the tests may be the price tag. Drug tests require employers to fork out $45- $95 per test, per employee. Another is the binary nature of results, i.e., the inability to distinguish the odd dabble in the wacky backy here and there from the full blown #420 life. A third is fear of privacy breaches such as that which occurred in 2015 in the United States and left 100 million health records all vulnerable and naked and exposed, according to the HIPAA data breach report, 2015.

Though drug testing is gradually on the uptake around New Zealand, these hurdles are keeping ample workers safe in experimentation for the now.


And so?


Let’s be honest, we’re all adults here. But the culmination of my research points strongly at one conclusive certitude: drugs are bad – and our bodies are intricate, fragile and pretty wonderful things. Don’t take more than you need, and definitely don’t waste them on mediocre office chores.

And in a wise alliteration from Life Education’s Harold the Giraffe, “definitely don’t let the drug dictate you.”

*Names have been changed for anonymity


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