- Both small and large businesses are struggling to deal with the opioid epidemic, stakeholders told Congress during a Feb. 15 House subcommittee hearing, The Opioids Epidemic: Implications for America's Workplaces.
- Employers are working on solutions, including employee assistance programs, but still face difficultly finding workers who can pass a drug test, representatives of the business community said.
- Still, answers for the broader problem elude lawmakers, Axios reports. Congress allocated $6 billion to address the problem and is about to take more action, but hasn't been specific about what that might involve. Policymakers have offered several proposals, including immediate treatment, new medical procedures, community rebuilding or involvement from law enforcement.
Lawmakers might not know the depth to which the drug addiction has affected the workforce, but by now, many have witnessed its impact. Opioid addiction is believed to be responsible for forcing 20% of men out of the workforce, research by a Princeton University economist shows. Employers once relied on drug testing to help maintain a workplace free of illegal substances but today, 25% to 50% of applicants reportedly fail drug tests, according to a report released in August, creating a talent sourcing problem in some areas.
As employers struggle to fill positions — a problem already made difficult by record-low unemployment and acute skills shortages — they're looking for ways to fight the epidemic. The cost in productivity and absenteeism is an estimated $10 billion a year.
Seeking to address the opioid epidemic's impact on the workplace, some employers investing in apprenticeship programs to train sober workers; partnering with agencies that provide treatment and counseling; and hiring parolees that must remain drug-free as part of their post-incarceration requirement.
Construction is among the most susceptible industries to opioid abuse — behind only the food service industry, according to a 2017 Bisnow report. Although there are no clear-cut answers as to how to curb the epidemic, several professionals do tout education around substance abuse and conversations as a good first step.
Jake Morin, niche president of construction at ProSight Specialty Insurance in Morristown, N.J., told Construction Dive last month that the aging workforce, and therefore increased physical toll on a body, could be contributing to opioids' increased use. Mental health issues also may be a significant factor. Nearly 83% of people who seek help through Canada's Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan's program screen positive for moderate to severe underlying mental health issues.
Despite many construction firms' reluctance to openly talk about substance-related problems, most still recognize it as a problem. In 2012, several industry groups teamed to form the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace (CCDAFW). The coalition includes founding organizations Associated Builders and Contractors and The Associated General Contractors of America, and the Construction Industry Round Table, Construction Users Roundtable, Independent Electrical Contractors and the National Center for Construction Education and Research.
To date, more than 5,100 companies and organizations — including general contractors, subcontractors, trade associations, insurance companies, regulatory/government agencies and employee representatives and unions — have pledged their support to eliminating substance abuse.