Scott Elam, board chairman of ATS The Bridge, drew attention to how opioid drug abuse affects businesses while addressing the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce’s Safety Council on …
Scott Elam, board chairman of ATS The Bridge, drew attention to how opioid drug abuse affects businesses while addressing the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce’s Safety Council on Tuesday.
Elam stressed the United States as a whole seems to be losing the battle against opioid abuse, citing a figure which said an estimated 65,000 Americans die of drug overdoses each year.
“And the scary thing is, it’s severely underreported,” said Elam.
ATS The Bridge is a local nonprofit organization which provides information and resources related to addiction, promoting the values of “Awareness, Treatment and Sustainability.”
Elam, director of safety and risk management for Wright Brothers Construction Company, said his work with ATS The Bridge has become entwined with his main career. That is because the opioid crisis has already been affecting this area’s industries.
“We can’t find quality employees who can pass a drug test,” Elam said. “If I hire someone to work a crane or something, I need them to be able to pass a test today.”
People are becoming addicted to and misusing prescription drugs in increasing numbers, decreasing the number of people who can stay “clean.” This has made many ineligible for work opportunities they might otherwise have had.
Elam referenced a statistic which estimated that in 2015 alone, 1 million people left the U.S. workforce. This has made recruiting good workers harder for companies and has in turn affected the nation’s economy.
It is estimated opioids are currently costing the U.S. $18 billion a year, Elam said. This is because of factors such as workers losing productivity, workers being tardy or absent, companies having hire replacements, insurance companies raising their costs and more.
“Where are we going to find people in the future?” Elam asked. “I want you to get fired up and do something about this.”
Elam spoke about some of the science behind addiction and how it can change how the brain works. He stressed that the problem of opioid addiction is already rearing its head in Bradley County, and it is becoming quite common to hear of overdose deaths here.
He also touched upon the opioid drugs which have been increasingly contributing to overdose deaths, such as fentanyl.
“In the last week, we lost three people in this town to fentanyl,” Elam said. “One of them was actually smoking dope laced with fentanyl.”
There are many things that can be done to help keep those who do not need opioid drugs from gaining access to them.
One action he condoned was better educating doctors, physician’s assistants and nurse practicioners on appropriate prescribing practices. Elam said he heard recently of a patient being prescribed fentanyl — a drug typically prescribed for severe pain or used as anesthesia — for pain related to an ingrown toenail.
Another action would be to reevaluate how companies promote themselves as drug-free workplaces. Elam said companies should have good policies in place to dictate what happens if — or when — employees fail drug tests.
Elam said he would be willing to share his company’s policies, and he encouraged the Safety Council members to consider starting a “working group” where business leaders could swap ideas.
In the meantime, they were encouraged to visit ATS The Bridge’s website, www.atsthebridge.org, for a variety of resources related to the topic.
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