When Eric Hicks, a Tennessee plastic molding plant manager, suspects that an employee develops a drug addiction, he asks them about it, tells them about treatment options and assures them their job awaits them when they get clean, The USA Today Network Tennessee reports. In rural Benton County, with a limited population and heavy drug use, terminating each offender is untenable when there is a growing company to operate. Hicks’ methods have helped individuals and they have also improved productivity. Turnover, absenteeism and drug test fail rates have each dropped significantly, as well as the number of defective parts made, all of which lower costs and boosts profits.
Tennessee is among the top three states for opioid prescription rates. While the state’s unemployment rate has dropped to a record low 3 percent, the labor participation rate has also gone down. A decade ago, more than 64 percent of residents participated in the workforce, a number that is less than 61 percent today, 2 percentage points below the national rate. The state’s opioid use is among factors to blame, said Matthew Murray, an economist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. “There are large numbers of individuals who are not working because of opioids,” he said. “There is a lot of collateral damage associated with this opioid problem.” Tennessee Economic & Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe said, “It is not unique to Tennessee. It has become an epidemic across the country.” The dollar impact of substance abuse is more than $2 billion in Tennessee, half of which is from lost income when people leave the workforce, said a recent University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center study.