The American Opioid Epidemic Has Found Its Way Into Auto Factories


It's gotten to the point where automakers are starting factory treatment programs for addicted workers.

By now you've likely heard that the opioid crisis is ravaging America, leaving bent needles and broken futures in the wake of sirens and empty Narcan containers. The image of the drug-ravaged city looks something like current-day Detroit, and though the departure of the auto industry is part of what's causing disgruntled blue collar workers to spend unemployment checks on hypodermic needles and the good stuff, a report by Automotive News claims that the addiction problem is just as prevalent within the factory walls as it is on the outside.

The problem has an unfortunate two-pronged approach that's causing substance abuse to enter the factory from two ends: with young workers who are coming in already addicted and through the older workers who are being prescribed addictive pain medications to cope with chronic pains associated with a lifetime on the assembly line. For younger workers, the issue stems from newer drugs replacing the old methods of unwinding after work. "It's not alcohol, it's not marijuana now. You're dealing with meth, you're dealing with the opioids, you're dealing with the heroin," says George Washington, an ex addict who began working for GM in 1977. "It's starting to show up more and more at the automakers' doorsteps."

Bearing an interest in quality, workplace safety, and the wellbeing of their workforce, automakers have begun implementing recovery programs to get their workers clean and healthy again. Still, the problems persist. "This opioid addiction is one of the worst addictions I have ever seen," says Washington. "It's so tricky, it's so powerful. They'll go in, they'll get clean. But then when the bottom falls out, it's one of the most painful I've ever seen." While it's primarily the younger workers who are coming in hooked on heroin and meth, the older generation of employees has its own problems too. Decades of long hours on the factory floors take a toll on their bodies, and doctors are treating these problems with powerful opiate painkillers.

As the years persist, the dosages rise and build tolerances as well as dependencies. The problem snowballs from there. Thing is, there isn't much research that has been done on how large the problem is among factory workers, meaning there's no way of knowing if substance abuse programs are working to keep workers off drugs and if the issue can be labeled an industry-wide epidemic for automakers with factories in America. Hopefully goodness will prevail, and though it might seem pointless to worry from behind a computer screen, the first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge we have one in the first place.


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