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Lawmakers struggle to address opioid crisis

Small and large businesses shared their struggles regarding the opioid epidemic with Congress during a Feb. 15 House subcommittee hearing, The Opioids Epidemic: Implications for America's Workplaces, according to www.constructiondive.com.

Research by a Princeton University economist shows opioid addiction is believed to be responsible for forcing 20 percent of men out of the workforce. Although employers once relied on drug testing to help maintain a workplace free of illegal substances, currently, 25 percent to 50 percent of applicants reportedly fail drug tests, which can make it hard to fill jobs in certain areas.

As employers struggle to fill positions, they're also searching for ways to fight the opioid epidemic. The cost in productivity and absenteeism is an estimated $10 billion per year. Some steps employers are taking is 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 requirements.

However, lawmakers are finding it difficult to address the broader problem. Congress allocated $6 billion to address the problem and is expected to take more action soon but hasn't been specific about what that might involve. Policymakers have offered several proposals, including immediate treatment, new medical procedures, community rebuilding or law enforcement involvement.

The construction industry is among the most susceptible to opioid abuse, behind only the food service industry.

Jake Morin, niche president of construction at ProSight Specialty Insurance in Morristown, N.J., says the aging workforce and increased physical toll on the body could be contributing to increased use of opioids. Mental health issues also may be a significant factor; nearly 83 percent of people who seek help through Canada's Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan's program screen positive for moderate to severe underlying mental health issues.

Although there are no clear answers regarding how to solve the opioid issue, education regarding substance abuse and conversations about the issue are viewed by professionals as a good first step. And recognizing and bringing attention to the issue is part of the battle. In 2012, several industry groups joined to form the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace. The coalition includes founding organizations Associated Builders and Contractors and The Associated General Contractors of America, as well as the Construction Industry Round Table, Construction Users Roundtable, Independent Electrical Contractors and the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

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.


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