How Opioids Are Creating a New Crisis in the US Job Market

By Jim Woods

On the surface, it appears the US economy is doing well, with an unemployment rate around 4 percent.1 But with the opioid crisis affecting more and more Americans from all walks of life, it was only a matter of time before we saw it cause large-scale changes in the world of employment.

In fact, opioid abuse has led to a serious problem for employers.

According to a recent study by Alan Krueger of Princeton University, fewer men between the ages of 25 and 54 are employed today. Nearly half of this group of men takes pain medication everyday — two-thirds of which use prescription pain medication.2 There’s no question many of these men likely want to go to work but may struggle with substance abuse or drug addiction.

Employers face a new struggle as more individuals use opioids each year. Managers may even have a difficult time finding employees who can pass a drug test. Drew Greenblatt of Merlin Steel Wire Products says drug problems lead to very high turnover and a lack of productivity as high-performing employees train new hires who don’t return to work.3 This cycle of hiring and training hurts morale as well as the employer’s bottom line.

On many occasions, employers are left covering the cost for opioid abuse. Research done by the National Safety Council shows that 59 percent of employers in Indiana have noticed painkiller use by employees while on the job.4 This fact is concerning for a variety of reasons. Painkillers should be used in moderation and under the careful watch of a medical professional. There are also a variety of side effects to consider whenever an individual uses prescription drugs that can impact the effectiveness and safety of their work. If an individual is operating heavy machinery, such as a truck or forklift, the results can be very serious — even deadly.

Waiting for job interviews

The Different Stages of How Painkillers Affect the Body

After an individual starts using painkillers, the body adjusts to the change of chemical levels. Eventually, more drugs are required to achieve the same effect. This cycle could lead to addiction and cause some men or women to miss work or not return to work after an injury. When painkillers are used with alcohol, a serious issue can become even worse.

For some men, substance abuse or addiction may be a way of coping with the mental and emotional pain of unemployment. The problem is, these methods of coping lead to serious health issues that only amplify their problems.

Statistics show that the growing opioid epidemic kills more than 90 Americans per day.5 Alcohol abuse also leads to approximately 241 deaths in America each day.6 These figures reinforce the fact that drug abuse is deadly.

How Employers Are Responding

Many employers have started to adapt to the challenges that come with widespread painkiller addiction. For example, employers such as Warren Fabricating & Machining have changed the work experience requirements for employment and have created apprenticeship programs.7 Some employers also offer incentives, such as cash bonuses, gift certificates or tickets to events, for not missing any days of work.8

Employers are also providing more training on the risks of painkiller abuse and increasing the amount of drug testing. At Tulkoff Food Products, for example, they’re administering twice as many drug tests now, with zero tolerance for a failed drug test.9

Hope Is Found in Recovery

While it is really easy to focus on the negatives of the opiate crisis, hope can be found in the recovery process. Employers are increasingly hiring individuals in recovery and have even made recovery support a vital part of the culture in the workplace. In one such example, Jonathan Rupert of Distinctive Surfaces hired a recovering opiate addict who then introduced Rupert to his other friends in recovery. Now, 15 of the 49 employees at Distinctive Surfaces are in recovery.10 The employees encourage each other and hold each other accountable to live healthy lives.

The opioid crisis did not start overnight, and it will not be cured overnight. But the good news is we all can do something today about this problem. Educating yourself is an important first step.

If you or someone you know struggles with an opioid problem, please reach out for help right now. Talk to your doctor or call one of our admissions coordinators at The Oaks to learn about the best treatment options for you.


1Bureau of Labor Statistics Data.” US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed September 20, 2017.

2 Krueger, Alan B. Where Have All the Workers Gone? An Inquiry into the Decline of the US Labor Force Participation Rate. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, August 26, 2017.

3 Smialek, Jeanna. “Opioid Crisis Giving Bosses Headaches.” Press Herald, October 25, 2017.

4Results From a Survey of Indiana Employers.” National Safety Council and the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, October 24, 2017.

5 Cheng, Evelyn. “Goldman Sachs thinks the opioid crisis is so bad it’s affecting the economy.” CNBC, July 6, 2017.

6Alcohol and Public Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 15, 2017.

7 Schwartz, Nelson D. “Economy Needs Workers, but Drug Tests Take a Toll.” The New York Times, July 24, 2017.

8 Renee, Tara. “How To Effectively Utilize Employee Attendance Incentives.” Career Trend, October 24, 2017.

9 Saraiva, Catarina. “The Opioid Crisis Spills Into the Workplace.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 25, 2017.

10 Sloan, Karen James. “Struggling to Find Workers, Some Employers Offer Opioid Addicts a Second Chance.CNBC, September 1, 2017.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.