Which Contributes More to the Opioid Crisis: Hopelessness or Overprescribing?

Opioids Affect the Workplace

The headline of a story on the social network site, LinkedIn, reads, “The opioid crisis is creating a fresh hell for America’s employers.” The story talks about how deeply prescription and illicit painkillers, including fentanyl, have affected the workplace.

At an Ohio-based pottery company, the owner no longer requires applicants to take a drug test. “Now,” according to the article, “he skips the tests and finds it more efficient to flat-out ask applicants: ‘What are you on?’ ” At a dishware manufacturing company in West Virginia, more than half of the applicants fail drug tests or refuse to submit to them. The opioid epidemic is “having a devastating effect on companies — large and small — and their ability to stay competitive.”

Many people are incapable of getting, and keeping, the jobs they need. Meanwhile, with low unemployment rates, companies are having difficulty recruiting and keeping qualified workers. The opioid crisis may be partially responsible for this problem.

My webmaster saw the LinkedIn story and emailed me to express his horror after reading the article. To him, this stood out from the daily barrage of bad opioid news. “Apparently, this is the new norm in some places. How did it get that way, and what is the way out? Is there a way out?” he asked.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen Also Sees Opioids in the Workplace

According to a recent Bloomberg Business Week article, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, too, has noticed how the opioid epidemic is affecting the workplace. She believes that the opioid crisis has contributed to a decline in the number of potential workers. She admits she doesn’t know if opioids are the cause or effect of the declining work force.

Bill Polacek owns a manufacturing company in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Polacek considered 350 people to fill 50 openings for skilled workers at his factory. However, half of the 100 candidates he short-listed either had a criminal record or couldn’t pass a drug test.

Bloomberg Business Week reports, “The type of hard-to-hire Americans Polacek encountered pose a growing problem for many employers, as a deepening opioid crisis plagues American communities just as the jobless rate hovers near a 16-year low.”

Unfortunate Convergence Causes Harm  

It’s clear that some people are unemployable because of their substance abuse. What is less obvious is that there are social/economic issues at work that both the media and the government seem unwilling to acknowledge as a major cause of the opioid epidemic that is now seriously affecting the workplace. They find it easier to blame the problem on Pharma and doctors.

Of course, opioids have been overprescribed. But that’s not the whole problem, and it may not even be the major issue. Instead, what we’re seeing is the unfortunate convergence of two factors.

First, there has been an influx of cheap heroin and synthetic opioids from China and Mexico. Second, there’s been an increased demand for those drugs from people who seek an escape from emotional and economic despair.

Too many people feel they are willing to accept the risks associated with using street drugs. Many of these people seem unaware of how dangerous those drugs are, or don’t care about the risks, given the fact that the alternative – dealing with their social and economic realities — is too painful.

People who are using opioids to medicate their social-economic stresses need more than an addiction treatment program. Treating their addiction is only treating the product of, rather than the reason for, hopelessness and despair. Unfortunately, not many policymakers are willing to acknowledge this as a root cause for much of the country’s opioid crisis. To solve the problem, we need to recognize and help the disenfranchised, forlorn members of society.


Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash


  1. Jory Pradjinski on August 11, 2017 at 9:01 am

    There’s needs to be distinction made between legal and illegal opioids. The term opioid is poorly used and society lumps together a pain patient responsibly taking pain meds with someone taking illegal, or, illegally obtained opioids. The term “opioid epidemic” is so vague, and is damaging to people living with pain.

    Recently we have seen the large criminal cases involving corrupt doctors and pharmacists who have moved millions of opioid pills illegally. How are these cases connected with the entire “over prescribing” story? Is “over prescribing” only connected with legitimate medical prescription writing, or, is it related to the actual number of pills being manufactured and distributed?

    The illegal use of opioids, whether illegal drugs or illegally uses pain medications, is soaring and society needs to become educated on the differences. The government has failed to control heroin and now synthetic fentanyl has become a huge problem. There are likely more corrupt doctors and pharmacists trafficking legal medications for illegal use.

    Meanwhile, the disabled community wants to work. This does mean that many will test positive for medications they need to live their lives. Medications which they responsibility take, and wish they didn’t need them. 28% of people living with a disability live in poverty versus 13% of the non-disabled community. This is a problem, a part of the unreported “Chronic Pain Crisis” in America today.

    If society continues to follow the generalized term “Opioids” as being all evil, then the disabled community will suffer even more. Someone who takes a pain medication to be a functional part of society, to provide as best they can for their family is now targeted as a drug addict due to terminology. They fear for their future. We must do a better job at differentiating opioids between illegal and legal, been illegally used and responsibly used. Education is a must.

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