WASHINGTON — Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, introduced legislation to combine addiction recovery programs with job training to address Ohio’s labor shortage caused by the state’s opioid epidemic.

The U.S. Labor Department says an average of 11 Ohio residents die every day from opioid complications.

Brown’s bill, which he co-sponsored with West Virginia Republiction Sen. Shelley Moore, would integrate existing grants from the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services in a six-year pilot program combining job training and addiction recovery services. Offering those services in tandem maximizes the odds of success for opioid addicts in Ohio and other states to overcome their addictions, Brown said.

“Employers can’t fill openings because workers can’t pass drug tests, and Ohioans struggling with addiction can’t find a job to help them get back on their feet,” he said. “We know addiction treatment and workforce training programs can be successful separately, but this crisis requires them to work together.”

The Labor Department attributed 20 percent of the decline in the labor force among men ages 25 to 54 to opioid addiction.

Local workforces hit the hardest by opioid addictions include manufacturing, construction and health services, according to Brown. However, he said all types of employers are struggling to fill job openings because of the crisis: “The opioid epidemic doesn’t discriminate.”

Steve Davey, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries across Erie, Huron, Ottawa and Sandusky counties, supports the bill: “We have seen the effect that drug addiction is having on our workforce.”

At a recent career fair organized by Goodwill, Davey said there were 90 employers with a total of 4,000 job openings. The large number of openings was directly linked to the applicants’ inability to pass drug tests.

“Virtually every employer said that too many applicants cannot pass the drug tests,” he said. “This pilot program has the impact to make a real difference in our communities”

Although the opioid crisis can seem daunting, Brown said the country has overcome national health crises before. He pointed to the government’s prior success in drastically reducing deaths caused by car accidents, tobacco and HIV/AIDS.

“We know how to do these things as a nation when we put our minds to it,” he said.

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