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Federal Grant Aims To Help Pennsylvanians With Opioid Use Disorder Return To Work

Mike Mozart

Pennsylvania is one of six states starting a pilot program providing reemployment services to people with a history of opioid use.

Funding comes from a $22 million grant overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly $5 million of which will go to Pennsylvania. The grant will run through the end of June 2019, and be administration by the state Department of Labor and Industry.

"A family-sustaining job is a critical step toward long-term recovery and healing from opioid misuse and abuse," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta in a press release. "These grants will provide services to help Americans impacted by opioids rejoin the workforce."

Eileen Cipriani, the Pennsylvania L&I's deputy secretary for workforce development, said participants in this pilot program will have access to training and evaluation services, as well as one-on-one case management.

“[And] we’re going to … outreach, and do training and education to employers, so that we can get employers ready to offer employment to individuals that have experienced opioid use disorder," she said. 

Cipriani said she's heard accedontal evidence that employers are having a hard time hiring the staff they need, though its unclear if opioids are to blame. 

Analysis from the Cleveland Federal Reserve found more data is needed to understand the full impact of opioids on the nation's labor force, but also that epidemic's magnitude is so great there could be an effect. 

Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, agreed it’s a bit early to know the extent of opioids’ influence. But he added that health issues are always a major factor.

“I think there’s not a doubt that labor force participation rates have been pushed down because of the opioid crisis,” said Briem. “But the scale of which, I think is something, I think people are only starting to look at now nationally from a research perspective.”

What's certain is Pennsylvania at the frontline of the crisis. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Pennsylvania has the fourth highest rate of overdose deaths in the country.

Recent anaylsis from Pew Charitable Trusts found that Allegheny County and Philadelphia County, respectively, have the first and second highest overdose fatalitiy rates for U.S. counties with more than 1 million people. 

(Photo Credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr)