Three out of four employers say that opioid crisis has affected their operations, but the impact of the most common interventions used to combat the workplace crisis – education and training, random drug testing and changes to health benefits – are still unknown. A team of researchers from Missouri University of Science and Technology is working together to better understand this crisis and offer employers, including those in Phelps County, evidence-based advice and solutions.
“We know that the opioid crisis continues to grip rural Missouri and many parts of the country,” says Dr. Clair Reynolds Kueny, an industrial organizational psychologist and interim chair of psychological science at S&T. “In talking to local employers, health care workers, law enforcement agents and government officials, it became clear that the university could play a key role in bringing together community partners and exploring solutions to help area businesses, particularly those in manufacturing.”
S&T’s Resilient Network of Workforce and Opioid-focused Rural Community-Organizations, or R-NetWORC, is funded through one of S&T’s Kummer Institute Ignition Grants and hosted a preliminary meeting in February with community leaders. The next sessions will be a series of focus groups held Wednesday, April 19, and Tuesday, April 25, at the Rolla Regional Center. For more information, visit rnetworc.mst.edu.
“Our mission is to go beyond current opioid coalition efforts by purposefully applying organizational science, workforce development strategy and systems engineering to assist rural communities in combating opioid-use disorder,” says Dr. Venkat Allada, professor of engineering management and systems engineering.
Kueny explained that the work directly ties into the university’s land-grant mission to disseminate research-based expertise to the state and nation.
“At Missouri S&T, we talk about ‘Solving for Tomorrow,’ which is a way to say that our university is focused on addressing major issues that affect our community, state, nation and world,” she said. “Recent data from the Missouri Department of Health and University of Missouri Extension showed that more than 1,500 Missourians lose their lives to opioid use annually – that comes at a tremendous cost to individuals, their families and our communities. Additionally, opioid use results in an estimated workforce loss of 14,700 manufacturing-related jobs and 15,200 health care jobs in Missouri alone. We know that it’s possible to bring those numbers down and working with employers could not only save lives but also strengthen our state economy.”
“I have very much enjoyed working with the S&T team on this project,” says Rebecca Losing, a community development specialist assistant for the Meramec Regional Planning Commission. “Based on the first focus group, I enjoyed the conversation and diverse participants. I believe we concluded there was a gap in re-entry services.”
According to the Missouri Department of Health, one out of 47 deaths statewide was attributed to an opioid-involved overdose. Data from 2021 indicated Phelps County recorded the sixth highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the state, with St. Louis City and Dent County ranking first and second, respectively. And while the National Safety Council has found 75% of employers are affected by the opioid crisis, only 17% say they are extremely prepared to deal with it.
Signs of Opioid Addiction
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a major warning sign of addiction is if a person keeps using opioids even though taking them has caused problems before – like trouble keeping a job, relationship turmoil, or run-ins with law enforcement. Other signs can include:
Everyone can play a role and take action to help end the opioid overdose epidemic in the United States.