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Opioid Epidemic Takes a Toll on East Tennessee Businesses

The U.S. Surgeon General says substance abuse disorders cost the US Economy hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

East Tennessee businesses say they are feeling the effect of the opioid epidemic.

Many can’t find people to hire who can pass a drug test.

"Employers are coming and saying we are struggling to find employees who can pass a drug test," said Kasey Vatter, the Assistant Director of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology. "From day one, we’re telling our students that part of what you are here to do is get a job and part of getting a job is passing a drug test."

The U.S. Surgeon General reports substance use disorders cost the U.S. economy more than $400 billion a year. Workers with substance use disorders miss nearly 50% more work days than their peers.

TCAT is hammering home the fact their students need to stay sober if they want to get a job.

"They could come to our program, they could complete every piece of it, they could get straight A’s and be exceptional in the skill that they’ve learned," said Vatter. "But if they cannot pass that test going in the door of the employer, they are not going to be able to get a job."

At Bandit Lites in Knoxville, the company brings in representatives from the Metro Drug Coalition to provide drug-free workplace training every year.

"We’ve emphasized a drug-free workplace," said Michael Strickland, the founder of Bandit Lites. "We’ve created a culture where people know what’s expected of them."

The company conducts random drug tests and screen people before they are hired. They have not felt the effect of the opioid epidemic, but Strickland knows others who have.

"They have five jobs to fill, they interview 50 people and they select 10," said Strickland. "One passes the drug test."

As the opioid epidemic continues to claim lives, the drugs are taking a toll on businesses.

"75 percent of individuals who have substance use disorders are employed, so we know it's affecting our workplace," said Deborah Crouse with the Metro Drug Coalition. "They're seeing higher absentee rates, they're seeing job turnover, and then in turn that means they have to train someone new."

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