Addiction in the Rust Belt and the Syrian Refugee Crisis: What’s the Link?

Recovery Unplugged Treatment Center Addiction in the Rust Belt and the Syrian Refugee Crisis: What’s the Link? 2

Although the American workforce has experienced dramatic change over the past few decades, we still live in a country in which roughly half of all employers require their applicants to pass a drug test to successfully qualify for employment. In a cluster of states known as the “Rust Belt” (Western New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, lower Michigan, northern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin), employers are learning just how difficult this reality has become. The American addiction crisis has corresponded with a trend of workers throughout the region testing positive for drugs during employer-mandated screenings. More and more of the job vacancies in the rustbelt, which largely include manufacturing opportunities, are being filled by refugees from Syria and other parts of the world.

According to Quest Diagnostics, one of the nation’s leading employee drug-screening organizations which performed more than 10 million screenings in 2016, the percentage of American workers testing positive for illegal drugs has increased considerably over the last three years to a decade-long high. Experts speculate and evidence suggests that the increase corresponds to the rise of heroin and opioids as well as the legalization of marijuana in certain states like Colorado. The inability of rustbelt workers to pass drug tests has had a significant impact on the economy. More than nine percent of employees tested positive for one or more drugs in oral fluid screenings in 2015.

While the problem is particularly pervasive in the Rust Belt, it is hardly isolated to that region. The inability to obtain or maintain employment because of drug and alcohol consumption habits is one of the most common signs of a substance abuse problem. What we’re seeing, in a country that still relies heavily on manufacturing to produce its goods and employee its citizens, is yet another significant economic consequence of the American drug addiction crisis. Employers all over the Rust Belt are expressing frustration and concern at the inability to find sober American workers to fill positions, and afraid of those who might be slipping through the cracks.

It may also be worth examining, however, the genesis of the relationship between the declining Rust Belt economy and the increasing addiction crisis in the region. Eerie, Pennsylvania, where roughly twenty percent of manufacturing employees are testing positive for drugs during employment screenings, lost over half its manufacturing jobs since the 1980s and has experienced a significant increase in rates of drug overdoses, alcohol-related deaths, and suicides. Whatever the future might hold for the population of addicts in the Rust Belt, their situation highlights the tragically far-reaching implications of drug abuse in the United States, as well as the need for increased prevention and treatment.