Opioids @ Work: Hidden Scourge Sapping the Economy, by James Varney

It’s hard to hold a job, or to be productive if you do hold a job, if you’re whacked out on opioids. From James Varney at realclearinvestigations.com:

Strung out on drugs half her life, Brandi Edwards, 29, said the longest she held a job before getting sober four years ago was “about two and a half months.”

“I worked at an AT&T call center, a day-care center for a month, fast food places, but I had to take drugs to get out of bed in the morning and when I did show up, I wasn’t productive,” the West Virginia mother of three told RealClearInvestigations. “The first paycheck came along and I was out of there.”

In jail for the ninth time on drug-related charges, and separated from her children, Edwards had an awakening in “looking hard at what I’d lost.” Now clean for four years after rehab, she is married and back in her children’s lives with a home in Princeton, W. Va., and a steady job.

But such success stories are too infrequent to offset the massive cost of the opioid epidemic to the American workforce. Only a couple of people in her former addict circle have returned to productive life, she says, while most are dead or incarcerated.

That toll on labor, haunting America’s working present and future probably for years — if not decades — to come, is largely invisible and underreported because it is difficult to measure, according to physicians, counselors, economists, workers and public officials. But its staying power is suggested by other lasting national challenges, including the porous southern border — a major conduit for smuggled, Chinese-made fentanyl — and economic and social traumas set in motion by the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to untold years of productivity lost from fatal overdoses, the nation’s labor participation rate has shrunk steadily since 2000. Precise correlation is elusive, but any graph of that decline would stand in sharp contrast to the rise of opioid addiction in the U.S. And while it is difficult to calculate just how much drug use has caused absenteeism, tardiness and stretches of disability, the connection is strong, as Brandi Edwards’ experience suggests.

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