Opioids’ impact on Ohio’s workforce

By Sen. Rob Portman - Contributing columnist

Our economy is growing and businesses are expanding and looking for workers.

Go on Ohiomeansjobs.com today and you will see more than 140,000 jobs advertised.

Despite all these job openings in Ohio, we still have a historically high number of people out of the workforce altogether. I believe it is because the opioid epidemic gripping our state has depleted the pool of workers and stunted our full economic potential.

Nationally, what economists call our “labor force participation rate” is low. That means there are many unemployed Americans not even looking for work, therefore not recorded in our unemployment numbers.

I hear this from business owners who say it is a challenge to find people who can pass a drug test. But the bigger problem is those who aren’t even showing up to take the drug test because they are not looking for work.

Our goal should be to get more people out from the grips of addiction and into the workforce where they can have the dignity and self-respect that comes with having a job. Businesses need to get more involved in finding solutions, and I’m working to enact federal policies to help as well.

In 2016, my bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, became law. It provides resources for prevention, treatment, and recovery for addiction.

In June, I visited MetroHealth in Cleveland, where they are putting CARA funding to good use through an innovative quick response team to intervene and get more addicts into treatment.

There are other positive examples like this across the state, but turning the tide of addiction will require more innovative solutions.

I recently introduced CARA 2.0 to build on CARA’s successes and increase resources toward evidence-based programs that really work. CARA 2.0 will also limit opioid prescriptions to three days for acute pain based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This would not affect those with chronic pain or cancer, but it would address the overprescribing that continues in treating acute pain.

A recent study found that states that have established prescription limits have experienced steeper declines in opioid prescriptions than those that haven’t. We also know that nearly 80 percent of heroin users start with prescription drugs, so ensuring we are smarter about prescribing will help stop addiction at the source for so many people.

I’m also working to stop deadly synthetic drugs like fentanyl from coming into the United States. Fentanyl is the No. 1 killer in this epidemic in Ohio — consisting of about two-thirds of overdose deaths from 2017. Unbelievably, fentanyl is mainly manufactured in laboratories in China and shipped through the U.S. Postal Service.

The STOP Act, a bipartisan bill I authored, will close the loophole in our international mail screening and keep more synthetic drugs out of our communities. The House of Representatives passed the STOP Act in June, and I’m optimistic that the Senate will vote on the bill soon.


By Sen. Rob Portman

Contributing columnist

Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio.

Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio.