Springfield business leaders say the drug epidemic wreaking havoc on the community has made it more difficult than ever to hire employees who can pass a drug test.
A local drug coalition is working with Clark County employers to streamline drug policies to help the local workforce and provide more opportunities for recovering addicts.
More Americans are testing positive for drugs in the workplace now than at any time in the past 12 years, according to a recent report from New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics Inc., one of the nation’s leading workplace-testing labs.
Overall about 4.2 percent of the U.S. workforce tested positive last year for drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin. It was the highest national rate since 2004 when the share of positives tests was 4.5 percent, according to Quest, which analyzed more than 10 million workforce drug test results nationwide.
In Ohio the overall rate of positive drug tests was 3.7 percent.
Opioid abuse costs employers about $10 billion from people missing work or coming to work sick or under the influence, according to a study performed by Castlight Health, a health-care information company.
“It’s a huge, huge problem for our state and our country as a whole,” said Ross McGregor, executive vice president at Springfield-based manufacturer Pentaflex and a former state representative.
A recent survey of employers from the National Safety Council study found that 71 percent believe addiction can be treated; however 65 percent also see it as a cause for termination. The survey also says 43 percent of employers believe those employees cannot be trusted.
If more people seek treatment and become employable, it can have a ripple effect on the entire economy, said Tracey Stute, director of treatment, prevention and support for the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Champaign Counties.
Workers terminated for failing a random drug test cost employers thousands in training costs, Stute said. The cost of replacing a new employee who earns about $50,000 is about 20 percent of their salary, according to the Center for American Progress.
“It helps everybody, the employer and the economy, because you have another person employed rather than unemployed,” Stute said.
More than $176 million will be used over the next two years to fight the opioid epidemic as part of the recent state budget, including $9 million for workforce development, state Rep. Kyle Koehler said.
The Springfield Republican lawmaker also serves as vice president of K.K. Tool Co. The business takes great care to find good employees, Koehler said, and has only had a few experiences with drug users in the past few years. He has heard from multiple employers about how hard it can be to find employees who don’t fail a drug test.
“You find someone who wants to work hard and they can’t pass a drug test,” Koehler said. “That’s going to always be an issue, especially as this situation grows … It begins with families and helping raise healthy kids and healthy families.”
Every situation is unique
The majority of the 79 drug deaths in Clark County last year involved heroin and illicit fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin. There have been 78 suspected drug deaths this year, including 51 confirmed drug deaths, according to the Clark County Coroner’s Office.
Local law enforcement agencies have responded to more than 720 calls for overdoses this year, while the Springfield Fire/Rescue Division has administered this year 1,225 doses of naloxone — the powerful drug commonly known by its brand name Narcan that revives people from an overdose.
The recovery board was one of 17 Ohio communities recently selected to participate in the Working Partners Drug-Free Workforce Community Initiative.
The board received a $20,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Recovery Services to kick start the program, Stute said. It will assist employers in creating drug-free workplace policies, helping employees in need seek treatment and create second chance approaches, if applicable.
Five companies participated in drug-free workforce technical assistance training last week, including Express Employment Professionals, Stute said. Another round of training will be available for five more companies later this year.
The board wants employers to help prospective workers who failed a drug screening before employment, including providing a list of resources for treatment options, Stute said. It can also help reduce the stigma for current employees, she said.
“If we can talk about this in our workplace like we have a lot of other sensitive issues, people begin to seek help,” she said. “It’s not a pass, but if I have a problem, then maybe I’m more likely to seek help if I know it’s discovered and then you’re out (of a job).”
After a business leaders forum last month, 16 employers signed up for more information on technical assistance training, including several large companies. The recovery board might host more training sessions this summer, Stute said.
“Some of them have drug-free policies in place but it’s about enhancing it based on the current circumstances,” she said. “Each situation is a little bit unique … It’s different for someone who works at an accounting firm than someone who drives a forklift.”
Fighting multiple fronts
About 70 percent of people abusing illicit drugs are employed, according to the National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
About 30 percent of people who fill out a pre-employment application at Springfield’s Express Employment Professionals don’t pass a drug screening, said Kristina Downing, franchise owner.
Employers also have background check requirements for people who might have felonies or multiple misdemeanors, she said.
“Those are two big things we’re going to have to overcome because we know there’s resistance,” Downing said.
One week earlier this year eight people failed a drug test at Express. They’re immediately withdrawn from consideration for a job, she said, and can’t seek employment through the placement service for 30 days and face more random drug tests in the future.
The epidemic is widespread, she said, affecting both white-collar and blue-collar job applicants.
The biggest issue for employers is liability concerns, she said.
“That was one of the biggest things we talked about,” she said. “If we do have a second chance policy … and someone relapses, what’s our liability there. I don’t know that we have all the answers yet.”
After the recovery board training last month, Express is in the process of changing its policies to refer those who fail drug tests to local treatment centers, Downing said. She hopes to roll out the new policies in September.
Employers also might be changing policies in the wake of the state legalizing medical marijuana, she said.
“We’re fighting the battle on multiple fronts,” Downing said.
Pentaflex — a Springfield-based manufacturing company with about 150 employees — uses employment agencies such as Express to hire workers. The employees are drug screened by the agency before they begin a 90-day temporary position.
The company also performs random drug testing, McGregor said. He doesn’t have a problem hiring recovering addicts and ex-felons, he said, and a job is a critical component in recovery.
“They need to be given an opportunity to become contributing members of society and be gainfully employed,” he said. “I definitely want to give people that second opportunity.”
While every situation is unique, the company has a second chance policy similar to what’s being discussed by the drug coalition, McGregor said. The company also has an employee assistance program, which can help workers retain their job after counseling is received.
“We’ll bring them back for a second chance and it’s happened on several occasions,” McGregor said. “I don’t know of anyone who’s been through the program that hasn’t gotten back on track.”
Safety is the company’s No. 1 goal, McGregor said, meaning people must be aware of what’s going on around them at all times.
“The machinery that’s being used is unforgiving,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a little mistake. Safety is our No. 1 goal.”
It’s more cost effective to provide an employee with a second chance, McGregor said, than to hire a new person if it’s discovered they’re actively using drugs.
“You’ve already invested considerable time and resources just bringing someone through the door for their first day,” McGregor said. “If they’re willing to go through the program, you’re trying to get someone back on the right track. They have that knowledge base that’s valuable.”
The company reviews its policies on an annual basis to make sure it’s following best practices, he said.
Within the past year, the company has had an employee who came to work under the influence of opioids, McGregor said.
“He had to be taken out of the factory for his own safety and the safety of others,” he said.
The epidemic can’t be pinned on any one socioeconomic group, McGregor said.
“If we don’t stop it, an entire generation of people will be decimated,” he said. “I can see it ballooning to a point where it may not be manageable at all.”
Bryce Hill Inc., a building materials and concrete supplier for residential and commercial builders, is required to follow federal and state policies regarding drug use as a company that pursues tax-funded projects.
The company’s commercial drivers must follow Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, said Kent Sherry, safety and environmental director at Bryce Hill. The federal government has a no-strikes policy, Sherry said.
Other employees fall under the state’s policy, which allows those who fail a drug test to receive a second chance, he said. It’ was used on several occasions and the person has gone through treatment, he said, but eventually relapsed and were terminated.
“We really don’t offer it anymore,” he said. “In the 18 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anyone make it through.”
New employees typically receive a two-hour informational session on drug use through a one-on-one meeting with Sherry, he said. Other companies use computers to train people, Sherry said.
“We’re very stringent on who we hire and do background checks to the best of our ability,” he said.
While protections are also in place for people struggling with addiction and wishing to seek treatment in order to retain their job, he said he’s never seen it happen.
“We would allow them to do it, but a lot of people don’t want to disclose they’re under the influence,” he said.
While he doesn’t have any solutions to the problem, leaders seem to be taking the same direction they’ve taken for years — pumping public money into the problem, he said.
“I just feel it’s the wrong way to go,” Sherry said.
‘I know this works’
On June 23, Springfield resident Brian Rexrode, 37, walked home from his job at Klosterman Bakery in a downpour at 2 a.m. After being sober for 10 months, he was more than happy to get soaked — it’s better than being strung out on heroin.
“It’s just something I have to do,” he said. “I always heard from my parents, ‘Put your big boy britches on.’ I’m doing what needs to be done.”
He’s one of a large group of people in Clark County recovering from addiction who struggled to find work because of what happened in his past.
Rexrode, a Park Layne native, first tried drugs when he was 15 years old and used for more than 20 years. He started out smoking marijuana, which ultimately led to using heroin when he was about 27 years old.
“It will take your soul … We don’t know how to get out and we don’t know how to stop,” Rexrode said. “It makes you so deathly sick. It’s like the flu times 10,000. It’s easier to get one more in some cases than it is to be clean.”
At 34, he came to Springfield for treatment. After being clean for more than a year-and-a-half, Rexrode relapsed last summer.
He stopped going to meetings and began having trouble in a relationship, which he said led to heroin again. Everything he had worked toward, including a full-time job, was gone in a month-and-a-half.
“It doesn’t matter how clean time you have,” Rexrode said. “It’ll creep back in and it’ll take over … It was so easy to do. I had no job, no place to live.”
During that time, Rexrode figured out what recovery felt like. He went back to treatment, began living at a sober living house in Springfield and started going back to meetings. He’s also being advised by CareSource life coach Eric Mata, who recovered after being in a similar situation.
After putting in an application, he called Klosterman every day for more than two months before he was hired in January. Rexrode has a criminal record with multiple misdemeanors. He was hired in January
“I have a lot of motivation,” he said. “I know this works. I force myself to do better this time. What I was doing before wasn’t working.”
Rexrode has two daughters, 12 and 10. The goal is to stay sober and provide for his family.
“I see all these people that have significant clean time and I want what they have,” he said. “They have more than just material stuff. They have peace of mind and people who can count of them. I want that.”
SPRINGFIELD’S OPIOID WAR
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and heroin problems in Clark County in the past five years, including stories about multiple overdoses in one weekend and efforts to expand treatment options. This year, the News-Sun will take a deep dive into the community’s opioid epidemic and what local leaders are doing to solve the problem.
By the numbers
14.8 million: Estimated number of Americans who abuse drugs.
70: Percentage of those Americans who are employed.
4.2: Percentage of the U.S. workforce that tested positive last year for drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin.
10: Percentage increase in positive marijuana tests in federally-regulated, safety-sensitive industries.
Source: National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Quest Diagnostics Inc.