The Growing Toll of The Opioid Epidemic

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Last week's (i) on Economic Development put the spotlight on Indiana's opioid epidemic and its impact on the economy. What could two people involved in site selection and economic development possibly have to say about this crisis? As it turns out, a lot. Opioid and other drug abuse has a significant impact on Indiana's workforce and, therefore, our economic success.

To be clear, nothing compares with the personal toll of this crisis. The daily loss of human life and its impact on families, schools, communities, and our culture cannot be overstated, and it's certainly not overshadowed by the economic impact of it. But that economic impact is real, and it's not just about the resource strains it puts on local hospitals, emergency responders, and healthcare costs. Some estimates put the annual price tag of this problem at $1 billion in Indiana alone.

As site selectors, we work with all types of industries throughout the country as they make decisions on where to locate or grow their businesses. The number one driver in site selection, regardless of industry, is workforce. Finding the quantity and quality of prospective job candidates to fill the positions needed is critical, whether it be life science, tech, manufacturing, or warehouse and distribution.

With many businesses using drug screening as a condition to receiving a job offer or continued employment, the inability to pass a drug test has become a major barrier to filling positions. A couple of our largest manufacturing clients in Indiana, both located in rural parts of the state, have told us independently that 50 percent or more of their job applicants either fail the drug test or withdraw their application when they discover drug testing is a condition of employment.

While these instances may seem anecdotal, the statistics back them up. The results from the 2017 Indiana Manufacturing Survey found that 68 percent of manufacturing companies in the state believe the inability for employees to pass a drug test is a problem, with 19 percent saying it is a major problem. From a dwindling workforce pool to decreased productivity from impaired employees, missed workdays, and increased employee turnover, the impacts are far-reaching.

The challenge is not limited to specific industries. One of the unique characteristics of the opioid epidemic is that it's indiscriminate; its impact is significantly broader than the recreational drug users of past drug epidemics. Some estimates indicate that 80 percent of opioid addicts began by using legal, prescriptive painkillers. As a result, all segments of the socioeconomic population can be affected.

One positive result of this terrible epidemic has been the collaborative effort of healthcare, government, learning institutions, and other organizations to tackle the opioid crisis, as evidenced by a variety of initiatives currently underway:

  • Last month Gov. Holcomb unveiled Indiana's Next Level Recovery website - an online entry point for all state resources on the opioid crisis. The site offers information for healthcare professionals, emergency personnel, law enforcement, community leaders, and persons with substance use disorder and their families.
  • Indiana University recently announced that $50 million would be spent over the next five years as part of its Grand Challenges Initiative to provide support for prevention, early intervention, and related support to fighting the opioid epidemic.
  • Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has instituted a program to bring civil lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
  • In southwestern Indiana, Knox County has collaborated with a host of local partners over the last 10 years to support LAM, a program designed to help find job positions upon release for those incarcerated as a result of drug abuse. As a sign of its impact, LAM has resulted in a 50 percent lower recidivism rate for its program participants versus non-participants.

No price tag can be put on the human and personal tragedy that this current drug crisis has wrought on our society and culture. But hopefully by expanding the participation of all partners in combating its impact, including the resources of the business community, the risks associated with opioid abuse can be mitigated and ultimately eradicated.

Tim Cook is chief executive officer and Katie Culp is president of KSM Location Advisors.

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