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Joint Subcommittee Hearing Examines the Impacts of Opioids in the Workplace

The Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) held a joint hearing today on how the opioid epidemic is affecting workplaces, communities, and the lives of working Americans across the country.

“Too many Americans – from all walks of life and from all parts of the country – are facing the terrifying realities of opioid abuse, and far too many are dying from opioid misuse and overdose every day,” said Rep. Walberg. “As policymakers, we need these statistics to inform what we do. But it’s most important to remember that every casualty was a person with incredible potential.”

“The alarming increase in the abuse and misuse of opioids is a matter of great national concern, and I am pleased that Congress and the private sector are having these discussions, actively looking for ways to reverse the damage of opioids in our communities,” added Rep. Byrne

Members heard about the economic impact the opioid problem is having on the economy as a whole, and how businesses large and small are seeing the effects of the epidemic.

“This epidemic impacts all parts of our society, but the combined impacts on households and the private sector account for the largest share of the societal burden and exceeded $46 billion dollars in 2016,” noted Corwin Rhyan, Senior Analyst of the Altarum Institute. “This finding elevates the importance of employers both as stakeholders directly impacted by the crisis, but also as potential leaders in preventing its spread and helping support treatment and recovery services.”

Not only are opioids having an impact on the overall health of the economy, employers are addressing opioid misuse and abuse in the workplace.

“Many employers I work with are struggling with the workplace impacts of opioid addiction,” said Kathryn Russo, an attorney that manages the Drug Testing and Substance Abuse Management Practice Group at the Jackson Lewis law firm.

“Employers [in Lorain County, Ohio] are acutely aware of the impacts of opioids and expressed repeatedly that they are having difficulty finding qualified candidates who can pass a drug test to fill local job openings,” said Rhyan. 

Lisa Allen, President and CEO of Ziegenfelder Company in Wheeling, West Virginia, described how her company addresses situations when employees are facing drug abuse or addiction in the workplace.

“These issues are complex, and much bigger than our little company, we know this,” said Allen. “That is why we are open and continuously in search of ideas, resources, and best practices to improve our processes.”

Allen went on to say, “We work with local counselors, social service agencies, our medical community, law enforcement and Federal and local Parole Officers on a case-by-case basis working to help people get assistance.”

Witnesses also discussed how employers are adopting policies to address opioids in the workplace, and how to identify and treat employee opioid abuse and misuse within the workplace.

Russo noted, “Many employers have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that allow employees to seek confidential assistance with substance abuse problems.”

A recent survey by the National Safety Council reported that 70 percent of all U.S. companies and 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have an EAP to assist employees struggling with substance abuse and other problems.

“Many employers are also taking significant steps to improve the availability of treatment and recovery services,” said Rhyan. “These businesses should be applauded for their efforts, supported in pursuing better care for their employees, and empowered to find the best solutions for their specific situations.”

“We must understand that the federal government must not act as a barrier or tie the hands of employers when it comes to addressing opioid abuse in the workplace,” said Rep. Walberg. “Rather, we should fortify employers’ efforts to help their employees and family members, who are affected by this epidemic.”

Rep. Byrne added, “Employers are recognizing the risks that opioid abuse has on the workplace, and it is reassuring to hear that businesses large and small are taking steps to address this problem in their organizations.”

Today’s joint subcommittee hearing marks the second joint subcommittee hearing held by the Committee on Education and the Workforce on the issue of opioids in the community.  

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