Drugs and Tech in Silicon Valley

By Paul Gaita 08/04/14

The recent overdose death of Google executive Forrest Hayes has shed a light on the tech industry's growing drug problem.

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The recent spate of headlines generated by the lurid, heroin-related murder of Google executive Forrest Timothy Hayes has thrown new light on the growing issue of drug abuse and addiction within the tech industry.

A feature in the San Jose Mercury News detailed the tremendous pressures within the industry that has spurred workers to use both illegal substances like heroin or street methamphetamines and prescription medications like oxycodone or Adderall to cope with production demands and punishing levels of competition.

The demand has in turn given rise to a black market to supply these needs, providing low-cost painkillers and abundant amounts of heroin. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s San Jose division has reported a 249% increase in heroin seizures from 2012 to the present, while the numbers for hospital emergency rooms visits for drug abuse have skyrocketed to 159 per 100,000 people. The increase in drug use has also led to an influx in admissions to inpatient treatment and recovery programs.

Drug use in the tech industry is hardly a new revelation—the dot-com boom of the early 2000s was also marked by abundant drug use—but the sheer number of current workers impacted by drug abuse and addiction has raised concerns with industry observers.

Meanwhile, the rise of prescription medications like Adderall and Provigil, which can allow users to remain awake and hyper-alert for hours, has added a dangerous new element to the drug menu available to tech workers. But as the feature notes, the most alarming aspect of the new drug boom is the lack of substantive counseling and treatment options to employees at many of the major tech companies.

The authors of the article noted that of the dozen firms they contacted with questions about substance abuse among its workers, only two, Cisco and Google, responded. Both offer counseling through employee assistance programs, but these are often not enough to counter the extraordinary pressure to self-medicate in order to meet the demands of the tech industry.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.