Opioids’ dire impact on Ohio’s workforce


THEIR VIEW

By Sen. Rob Portman - Guest Columnist



WASHINGTON, D.C. — Our economy is growing and businesses are expanding and looking for workers.

Go on Ohiomeansjobs.com today and you will see more than 140,000 jobs advertised.

Businesses say pro-growth federal policies — tax reform especially — are helping them grow and increasing optimism about the future. Since the first of the year, I’ve visited 21 businesses across Ohio that have raised wages, delivered bonuses, bought new equipment, increased workers’ benefits and more as a direct result of tax reform. At another dozen small-business round table discussions, I have heard the same story.

Despite all these job openings in Ohio, we still have a historically high number of people out of the workforce altogether. I believe it is because the opioid epidemic gripping our state has depleted the pool of workers and stunted our full economic potential.

The opioid epidemic that killed thousands of people last year in Ohio is also impacting businesses by driving up healthcare costs and weakening the labor market, experts said.

Nationally, what economists call our “labor force participation rate” is low. That means there are many unemployed Americans not even looking for work, therefore not recorded in our unemployment numbers.

It’s so bad that if our labor force participation rate were at its recession level, our country’s unemployment rate wouldn’t be 4.0 percent as it is today — it would be 8.6 percent.

A recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that areas with high levels of opioid prescriptions have lower workforce participation rates than those with low levels of opioid prescriptions — by an average of 4.6 percent for men and 1.4 percent for women. They also surveyed businesses separately and about half said the opioid epidemic has negatively impacted them.

I hear this from business owners who say it is a challenge to find people who can pass a drug test. But the bigger problem is those who aren’t even showing up to take the drug test because they are not looking for work.

Last year, a report published by the Brookings Institution found that nearly half of men between the ages of 25 and 54 not in the labor force take pain medication on a daily basis and nearly two-thirds of that group acknowledged taking prescription pain medication.

A Department of Labor survey from earlier this year found that 44 percent of that same group acknowledged taking pain medication the previous day.

The true number is likely higher because of the stigma and the legal risk involved in admitting drug use.

Our goal should be to get more people out from the grips of addiction and into the workforce where they can have the dignity and self-respect that comes with having a job. Businesses need to get more involved in finding solutions, and I’m working to enact federal policies to help as well.

In 2016, my bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, became law. It provides resources for prevention, treatment, and recovery for addiction.

In June, I visited MetroHealth in Cleveland, where they are putting CARA funding to good use through an innovative quick response team to intervene and get more addicts into treatment.

There are other positive examples like this across the state, but turning the tide of addiction will require more innovative solutions.

I recently introduced CARA 2.0 to build on CARA’s successes and increase resources toward evidence-based programs that really work. CARA 2.0 will also limit opioid prescriptions to three days for acute pain based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This would not affect those with chronic pain or cancer, but it would address the over prescribing that continues in treating acute pain.

A recent study found that states that have established prescription limits have experienced steeper declines in opioid prescriptions than those that haven’t. We also know that nearly 80 percent of heroin users start with prescription drugs, so ensuring we are smarter about prescribing will help stop addiction at the source for so many people.

I’m also working to stop deadly synthetic drugs like fentanyl from coming into the United States. Fentanyl is the No. 1 killer in this epidemic in Ohio — consisting of about two-thirds of overdose deaths from 2017. Unbelievably, fentanyl is mainly manufactured in laboratories in China and shipped though the U.S. Postal Service.

The STOP Act, a bipartisan bill I authored, will close the loophole in our international mail screening and keep more synthetic drugs out of our communities. The House of Representatives passed the STOP Act in June, and I’m optimistic that the Senate will vote on the bill soon.

Addiction has hospitals and treatments centers overflowing, jails overcrowded, the foster care system overwhelmed, and our pool of potential workers depleted.

It will take a comprehensive approach and a community-wide effort to address all of these issues. Together, we can help Ohioans get the care and support needed to get back to leading productive lives.

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THEIR VIEW

By Sen. Rob Portman

Guest Columnist

Sen. Rob Portman of the Cincinnati area is the junior U.S. senator from Ohio. Provided by Portman’s office. Original link: https://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2018/08/opioids_dire_impact_on_ohios_w.html

Sen. Rob Portman of the Cincinnati area is the junior U.S. senator from Ohio. Provided by Portman’s office. Original link: https://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2018/08/opioids_dire_impact_on_ohios_w.html