How the opioid epidemic is impacting operations

Drug overdoses claimed more than 63,600 American lives in 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Opioids, including heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone, were to blame for about 66% of those fatalities. West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Kentucky had the highest rates of death due to drug overdoses in 2016, and the Midwestern region saw a 70% increase in opioid overdoses from July 2016 to September 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, IN, the crisis is affecting the job applicant pool in an already challenged job market.

“[The crisis] is affecting us because hospitals do drug testing,” says Martha Rardin, director of nutrition and dietetics. “I don’t do a lot of health fairs, but I’ve talked to other operators that do employment fairs, and they’ve let people know that drug testing will be part of the process. And people self-select out. And so that’s significant because you can’t hardly get applicants in the first place.”

“They self-select out because they know there is going to be drug testing and they know they won’t pass.”

Behind the crisis

The recent surge likely originated in the late 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies marketed some opioids as being nonaddictive, and doctors widely prescribed drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine for long-term use.

Once those prescriptions ran out, some people who became addicted to the prescription pain killers turned to heroin.

While oxycodone might be worth $25 to $50 per 5-mg pill, $20 worth of heroin may last up to eight hours, depending upon frequency of use, tolerance and potency of the drug. But as demand for heroin outpaces production, synthetic opioids with up to 100 times the potency of morphine, such as fentanyl, have emerged, increasing the frequency and risk of overdoses.

The wide availability of opioids and staggering economic inequality in communities throughout the country have proved to be a dangerous—but increasingly common—combination.

Working with it

In April, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in a national public health advisory that naloxone must be available to the friends and family of those at risk to opioid overdose. “It is time to make sure more people have access to this life-saving medication,” he said, pointing out that 77% of opioid deaths occur outside a medical setting.

Training employees to be proactive about safety is a good first step, says Richard Jones, the police chief of Cleves, Ohio. In Hamilton County, where Cleves is located, the county coroner has reported that 373 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017—the third straight year of increases. “But the biggest thing is to keep calling 911 for the troublemakers,” Jones says. “Letting them grow roots and establish a safe environment for their drug usage will attract more.”

He also warns against CPR, because getting on the ground could make good Samaritans vulnerable to attack if the user is not alone, or it could accidentally expose them to opioids.

Tim Dimoff, CEO and president of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services Inc., Akron, Ohio, recommends running a detailed background check on new employees’ criminal and civil pasts.

“It will tell you two things: if they have a past drug-abuse situation, and if they have a hard time handling money, which could lead them to theft or drug dealing,” he says.

For Rardin, she’s hired new employees with a record of a few misdemeanors. It’s a common situation in her market, she says, adding that they don’t hire felons but will consider people working to get a fresh start. In one case, they asked a potential hire about her past and she admitted she abused drugs at one time.

“Right off the bat, we had to give her time off for court appointments; we had to give her time off because she’d get notified to be present for a random drug test…,” she says. “I remember reminding our staff that this is a new person, she’s trying to turn her life around. But in the end, she was missing too much work and you could see the handwriting on the wall…it affected our team.”

Open-ended interview questions can also save trouble down the road. For example, ask potential hires how they would handle someone who comes into the facility who wants to sell drugs to guests, and watch their reaction, Dimoff says.

“You’d be surprised how much information they will tell you if you just ask,” he says. Establishing and mentioning zero-tolerance drug policies in job listings and interviews will screen out many troubled applicants, he says.

[Ed. note: Some of this piece comes from a special report by CSP, sister publication to FoodService Director. To read the full report, please visit CSPDailyNews.com.]

Illustration by FoodserviceDirector Staff


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