Monday, Oct 23, 2017
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EDITORIAL

Opioid crisis reaches into the workplace

More than 4,000 Ohioans died of drug overdoses in 2016. The number will likely be higher this year. As the result of that toll, there are more orphans, spouses without a wage earner, and broken-hearted friends.

But a secondary effect of the drug crisis is the damage being done to the workforce, the workplace, and the economies of Ohio and the nation.

Fewer men are working, yet the unemployment rate is down. Analysts say one reason is the opioid epidemic. Either prospective workers cannot pass a drug test or they are too debilitated to seek employment, keeping them out of the unemployment data.

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In July, there were a record 6.2 million unfilled jobs.

In Ohio, the manufacturing and construction jobs are plentiful, but they are not being filled, particularly in the heavily industrial Youngstown area and in southeast Ohio, which has been decimated by drug overdoses.

At Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, co-owner Regina Mitchell told the New York Times that at least four out of 10 job applicants fail drug tests, making it difficult to get staffing levels to where they need to be.

Besides staffing issues, substance abuse results in diminishing productivity and safety concerns for companies. And the dramatic increase in drug usage has left many companies unequipped to deal with the crisis. According to a 2017 National Safety Council survey, more than 70 percent of employers with 50 or more employees have been affected by prescription drugs. Yet, 80 percent of larger companies do not have a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy.

Drug abuse is putting a strain on a national economy still struggling to get up to speed after the Great Recession. A federal study estimated that opioid abuse cost the economy $78.5 billion in 2013, long before the height of the epidemic. The numbers are surely worse now.

Addiction has long been considered a poor-man’s problem, an issue that does not affect affluent society. That is no longer true. The opioid epidemic has reached into the homes of American families, across the economic spectrum. And now it is poisoning the workplace and the economy itself.

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