ST. PAUL - The opioid crisis has gotten so bad that some employers are struggling to find sober workers.
"The drug-testing challenge is a significant one for hiring," said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, an organization of 120 CEOs from companies that employ about 400,000 Minnesotans.
Weaver and the state Department of Health announced a partnership Tuesday, Sept. 18, to create an opioid toolkit for employers to help workers struggling with addiction.
"It's not just if the employee is addicted," Weaver said. "It's their mother, their father or wife or child. Imagine the mental strain and distraction to an employee. How do you focus on your job if you're worried about whether your child is going to be safe or survive?"
Minnesota lost 401 people to opioid-related overdoses in 2017. The drugs were responsible for the majority of the state's 694 drug-overdose deaths.
Opioid-related fatalities have grown exponentially since 2000 and drug overdoses now kill more Minnesotans than car wrecks.
"That's pretty stunning, when you think about it," state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said of the death toll. Teaming with the business community is a "critically important" piece of the state's ongoing response to the opioid epidemic.
"This is an all-hands-on-deck public health crisis," Malcolm said.
Creating a toolkit to help
Weaver and Malcolm hope employers will use the new toolkit to reduce the stigma of drug addiction, encourage safe disposal of unused medications, be better prepared to help if a worker overdoses and improve employees' access to treatments.
Weaver acknowledged that workers are hesitant to talk with their employer about struggles with addiction. He hopes the business partnership members' willingness to address the issue will help to erase some of that stigma.
"We can't afford not to address this issue in Minnesota," Weaver said, noting the human cost of the addiction crisis.
The economic impact of abuse
The state is in the midst of a growing labor shortage for certain types of skills. Weaver says that in addition to being a public health crisis, opioid addiction could have long-lasting impact on the state's economy.
In 2017, the White House's Council of Economic Advisers estimated that the opioid crisis cost more than $500 billion, or 2.8 percent of the nation's gross domestic product in 2015.
"Frankly, from an employer perspective, there's nothing that is more important than the health and wellness of our employees," Weaver said. "At the end of the day, companies are benefited by employees who are able to work and show up and do the job."
Other efforts to stem epidemic
The partnership with business leaders is just the latest step in the state's work to rein in the opioid epidemic.
Public health leaders have created stricter guidelines for prescribing pain medications and are working to make addiction treatments more accessible. The state attorney general along with county attorneys from across the state have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, claiming doctors and patients were misled about the safety of the painkillers.
Drug companies have disputed those claims.