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Drug Addiction in the Tech World

“People graduate to doing things that they never thought they would have done.” – Michael Johnson

While doing some research on cultural problems facing the tech world, I found all kinds of issues that are common: women in technology, brogrammers, sexism and sexual harassments, lack of diversity and cultural awareness, lack of respect for public (i.e. Facebook’s mood manipulation experiments), preference of hiring the young and inexperienced, etc. One thing that caught my attention was something that haven’t came up in the news that often; the common use of illicit drugs in Silicon Valley.

This is interesting to me, especially in light of the recent overdose death of an executive at Google, a company that I consider to be an industry leader in the tech world. Forrest Hayes, a Google executive and father of five, was found dead on his yacht in Santa Cruz this past summer. It is not surprising to me that drug abuse is common amongst many in the tech industry, but I don’t hear about it in the news that much, so I decided to do some further research.

Tech workers in the valley are faced with many forces; a fast-paced, overworked environment that values rapid productivity with tight deadlines and intense competition. There is a term called the “10x engineer” (an engineer that is 10x more productive than a 1x engineer) in the startup world. Engineers who are willing to work longer, harder, and produce more capital; engineers who are chasing the high of the win. This, combined with monetary and cultural incentives, leads to tech workers exploring the use of illicit drugs, like Adderall, for performance-enhancing purposes. Adderall is so common in the industry that it is normalized as something that is “at best, a stronger version of caffeine, and at worst, a more socially acceptable alternative to cocaine,” says Cori Johnson

Adderall isn’t the only drug common in the tech industry. Many high-level executives (from companies like Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and Yahoo) are struggling with everything, from cocaine and heroin to black-market painkillers. Detox specialists say that progression up the addiction ladder is predictable. It starts with caffeine, like Red Bulls and Monster energy drinks. When caffeine is not enough, they turn to stimulants, like Adderall, to get amped up, and then depressants, like oxycodone, to take the edge off. Eventually, they would get used to the effects of the pills and then turn to heroin; first smoke/snort, then, as their bodies build up tolerance, inject. “People graduate to doing things that they never thought they would have done,” said Michael Johnson.

Many tech companies do little or no drug testing, and managers look the other way. “They want the results, but they don’t want to know how their employees got the results,” says Steve Albrecht. This is a fundamental culture problem; and it won’t be fixed unless the environment supports it. These problems come from a broken business model that puts results over its employees. The intense competition drives managers to put pressure onto its employees. The tech world has a rampant drug problem and it’s sad to see that it took the death of a high-level executive for the media to bring this problem to the forefront. While I do not see big tech companies or even the numerous funds-strapped startups implement policies to reduce this kind of behavior anytime soon, we have to start somewhere.

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