While statistics specific to the fenestration industry are hard to come by, new research suggests that opioids might be a major driver behind the nationwide shortage of skilled workers in many blue-collar segments of the economy.

A recent study by Princeton University’s Alan Krueger suggests that the national increase in opioid prescriptions from 1999 to 2015 could account for about 20 percent of the decline in men in the workforce and 25 percent of the decline in women’s labor force participation. While other factors such as an aging population play a role as well, an increase in opioid prescription rates “undoubtedly compounds the problem as many people who are out of the labor force find it difficult to return to work because of reliance on pain medication,” according to a report on the study from the Brookings Institution.

“Labor force participation fell more in counties where more opioids were prescribed, controlling for the area’s share of manufacturing employment and individual characteristics,” Krueger writes in his report.

Krueger’s earlier research found that nearly half of prime age men who are not in the labor force take pain medication every day. Two-thirds of those men —or about 2 million—have prescriptions for their pain medications.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. labor force participation rate peaked at 67.3 percent in early 2000, and it reached a near 40-year low of 62.4 percent in September 2015.

In addition to draining the pool of available workers, drug use also costs companies a lot of money. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), drug abuse costs employers around $81 billion each year from high turnover rates, reduced productivity, theft and absenteeism.

Perhaps even more shocking is the increase in the number of overdose deaths at the workplace. Overdose deaths from the non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while on the job increased from 165 in 2015 to 217 in 2016, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a 32-percent increase. Overdose fatalities have increased by at least 25 percent annually since 2012.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce held a forum in March to address the issue, and the proposals that were discussed have generated legislative action.

“Since then, we have been pleased to see many of these ideas incorporated into the nearly 100 pieces of legislation that have been introduced in Congress,” the organization recently wrote on its website.

For more about this topic, please see DWM‘s February 2018 issue.

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