Drug Abuse Diminishes Southwest Virginia’s Workforce

Not long ago, 11 people applied for a job with a small Southwest Virginia business. Five walked away when told they would have to take a drug test. Another five took the test and failed. That left the company with just one drug-free applicant to fill the position.

Such a scenario is all too common, according to a coalition fighting a prescription drug abuse problem that took hold a decade ago in far Southwest Virginia and has yet to let go.

“What we’ve heard, time and time again from employers, is their frustration that so many people they are trying to hire are either unwilling to take or unable to pass, a drug test,” said John Dreyzehner, chairman of the board of One Care of Southwest Virginia.

In a region where prescription drugs have long been abused, the costs are often measured by the number of arrests, the growing demand for treatment, and the annual death toll from accidental overdoses. But in addressing something that has killed more than 2,000 Southwest Virginians over the past decade, the coalition is broaching a less-talked-about casualty.

“This is a business, economic, and workforce issue,” said Carl Mitchell.