Conference addresses employers' role in opioid crisis - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Conference addresses employers' role in opioid crisis

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MARION (WSIL) -- Deaths from opioids continue to be a huge concern and health officials are now looking to employers for help with the epidemic.

From 2014 to 2017, the number of opioid overdoses in Illinois jumped from 1,300 to 2,200.

Synthetic opioids like fentanyl led the rise, but prescription opioid and heroin overdoses are also on the rise.

"It's not just something for the medical people or the social services people or law enforcement," Kate O'Hara with the USDA's Office of Rural Development said. "It's also something that's helpful for the business community."

Kate O'Hara said many groups are involved in battling the problem but getting employers to help is tough due to strict anti-drug policies.

"And I think now, what we're recognizing is that we have an entire workforce that can't pass drug tests," O'Hara said. "We have businesses that have positions that are going vacant, so there needs to be a different approach, and part of that approach is to create a recovery-oriented environment for business."

The health groups organized a conference with various businesses to help them develop their own action plans, going through exercises and listening to experts.

Rachael Cooper with the National Safety Council is one of those experts.

"75 percent of people with substance use disorders are employed. 95 percent of opioid overdoses happen in a working-age population," Cooper said. "This is clearly something that intersects with employers and impacts organizations. We're working on finding out exactly how it impacts it and how we address it."

Cooper said it won't be easy, but getting people to recovery is the ultimate goal, "It's important, I think, to end on that message of hope, always, so that people don't feel like they're up against something that they can't solve. We can get people to a place of recovery and support, we just have to learn how do it."

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