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America's Opioid Addiction Creates Gaps in Its Workforce

America's Opioid Addiction Creates Gaps in Its Workforce

Economists estimate that there are 1.5 million people of working age who are currently missing from the work force. This means that they are unemployed and/or they are not looking for a job. It is not entirely clear the affect that the opioid epidemic has had on this 1.5 million, but what is clear is that it has made enough of a mark to be noticeable.

Those who are battling addiction put their next "fix" above employment. When they're on the drugs, they feel drowsy, and when they're off them, they're too sick to be able to work. Those who use opioids in particular have reported that the physical impacts of opioids are worse than those experienced while on other drugs. The stigma that surrounds abuse also rises to such a point where it is easier for users to quit their jobs and deal drugs than to try to maintain a 9-to-5 façade.

While opioid use in this country is rampant, they are markedly less common than alcohol abuse. However, they do have a larger impact on a person's work life. Researchers at the National Safety Council and the University of Chicago's NORC research group have found that those who abuse opioids miss twice as many work days as those who abuse alcohol. Per Alan Krueger, an economist at Princeton, nearly fifty percent of unemployed men who are of working age have used pain medication, with two-thirds of those men admitting to using prescription drugs.

And even when people get clean, they may still be faced with struggle when trying to get a job. A cleaning company, for instance, may not want to hire someone in recovery. The employer may fear, at the very least, that the candidate won't show up if s/he relapses. Worse, the employer may find it difficult to trust someone in recovery with going to other people's homes and businesses. What if the person relapses and decides to steal to fund his or her habit? Or worse, what if s/he overdoses in another person's home?

Kids in college who become addicted to heroin and other opiates face their own sorts of challenges. Not only do they face the same challenges that older folks who are battling addiction face, but if they find themselves in legal trouble due to their addiction, they risk their college careers, which will certainly impact the jobs they get in the future. What's more, kids who are convicted of drug-related felonies and who depend on federal loans in order to attend school may have to drop out due to the government not providing federal loans to felons.

It's not just the physical effects of addiction that can ruin a person's work life; getting clean can take a toll, too, and not just on the user. Family members and friends who are tasked with taking the user to rehab may have to take time off from work in order to do so, which puts their jobs in jeopardy as well.