Substance use disorder and addiction affect millions of people around the world; whether it’s that prescription medication she now craves or his unstoppable yearning for a glass of whiskey. Whatever the case, the disease often has the same crippling effects on its victims. However, today we’re seeing a surge in the abuse of a certain class of drugs: opioids. Society is getting hooked on heroin highs as well as the numbing effects of pain relievers (which may even be legally prescribed to the individual), such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and many more. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled since 1999. And currently, 91 Americans die every single day from an opioid overdose.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, it has emerged that this opioid epidemic is seeping into and hindering our workforce. National Public Radio (NPR) says that “economists estimate 1.5 million working-age people are missing from the labor force, not working or looking for work.” And while it isn’t clear on the big scale how responsible opioid addiction might be for this absence, it is clear enough to many employers and communities that the drug is to blame.
While alcohol may be a greater threat to life stability and life alone, opioids prove to affect users’ work life more. According to research conducted by the National Safety Council and the NORC research group at the University of Chicago, opioid users miss twice as many work days as people with alcohol addictions.
Looking at the effects of opioids as well as addictions, it isn’t hard to believe that these users aren’t making it to work. In fact, I’d be shocked if they were. Short-term effects of opioids include drowsiness, nausea, and even unconsciousness, while even harsher ones affect those who have become dependent on the drug: these individuals often feel deathly ill (though they’re not) and find themselves alienated at their work and in their social circles.
Surprisingly enough, some of these users actually make it to work—but that doesn’t mean they’re producing good work. Many of them fall asleep on the job or become too sick to function, according to Susan Carlock, vice president of business development for metal parts maker, Mursix Corp. She added that the effects of opioid abuse on the company didn’t stop there: even sober employees needed time off in order to deal with opioid-related family emergencies.
Moving forward, Mursix has had to show some leniency concerning certain crimes, due to the fact that so many applications are tainted with drug-related charges. “We are a victim of the lack of workforce in this community, and we’ve had to—I don’t want to say lower or bend our standards—but we’ve reevaluated,” Carlock told NPR.
The problems these opioid addictions pose to the workforce are certainly of concern and it is crucial we address them; however, it is vital that we first focus on the root of the problem and help these drug-dependent individuals. This will, in turn, solve the workforce issue. But the question is, how do we battle and defeat this epidemic? While there isn’t a clear answer yet, you can do your part by keeping a watchful eye over loved ones and avoiding the substance yourself: remember, one single use can lead to addiction and abuse.