Portman OpEd in the Columbus Dispatch: “Opioid Addiction Takes A Big Bite Out of Labor Force”

April 16, 2019 | Column

In a new op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch, Senator Portman talks about how despite the strong economy and job creation we’ve seen, one of the most pressing economic challenges for businesses is finding qualified workers to fill in-demand positions. To expand our workforce and maintain the momentum in our growing economy, Senator Portman highlights the need to work together to get those gripped by addiction off drugs, back into the workforce, and contributing to society.


Portman is the co-author of the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act (CARA) that became law in 2016 and provides resources for evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs to help people overcome their addiction. The most recent bipartisan funding agreement actually funded these CARA programs at $647 million, much higher than the authorized amount.  Portman’s CARA 2.0 Act would increase these authorization levels further.  In addition, Portman worked to secure $1 billion in new funding for state grants to fight opioid abuse in the 21st Century CURES Act.  He’s also fought for more overall opioid funding, and helped secure approximately $3 billion in new opioid funding in the most recent bipartisan funding agreement. 


Excerpts of the op-ed can be found below and the full op-ed can be found at this link.  


Opioid Addiction Takes a Big Bite Out of Labor Force

By Senator Rob Portman

The Columbus Dispatch

April 16, 2019


As I travel across Ohio, I hear good news about the economy from employers and workers. Their optimism is reflected in the numbers — strong economic growth, new jobs being created and, for the first time in a generation, real wage growth.


The biggest concern I hear from companies is the shortage of skilled workers.


In 2017, a Brookings Institution report found that about half of the nearly 8 million men ages 25 to 54 not in the labor force acknowledge taking pain medication daily, and nearly two-thirds of that group take prescription pain medication. In 2018, a Labor Department survey found that 44 percent of men in this group who were out of the labor force acknowledged taking pain medication the previous day.


I have focused on making the federal government a better partner for our communities on the front lines of this epidemic. And the bipartisan work we have done is beginning to make a difference. In the past three years, the federal government has increased spending by more than $3 billion for opioid prevention, treatment and recovery services.  Last month, I toured Southeast Healthcare Services in Columbus, and saw firsthand how it was using a $1.6 million, three-year federal grant through my 2016 Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to expand access to treatment.



Combined, these efforts are working to help finally turn the corner on the opioid epidemic. For the first time in eight years, we are seeing fewer overdose deaths.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio had a 21.4 percent drop in overdose deaths in the first half of 2018, the most recent data we have. The Ohio Department of Health reports a 34 percent reduction in overdose deaths from January to June 2018. These Ohio numbers lead the nation in percentage reduction in overdose deaths.


Despite this progress, the number of overdose deaths remain at unacceptably high levels. Addiction is not only devastating families and communities, it’s also undermining our economy at a time when workers are badly needed. By taking a comprehensive approach to the opioid crisis, we can help Ohioans get the care they need to get back to work and we can help our economy realize its full potential.