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The New American Drug Epidemic

drug epidemic

drug epidemicPreviously we’ve discussed a number of the reasons for the tech shortage in today’s auto repair industry, including worker unreliability. We’ve mentioned education, changing technology, pay rates, and the cost of necessary tools, but we haven’t talked about one issue that keeps cropping up in the news: the new epidemic of drug use by Americans.

This is a very pressing problem. More than 90 Americans overdose every day. Drug overdose deaths are up in all 50 states with epidemiologists pinpointing heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl as the reason. Drugs are now the leading cause of accidental death, surpassing car accidents and shooting deaths. For many years drugs have been considered an urban problem, but in rural areas drug abuse has skyrocketed, and it’s no longer primarily a youth problem either. Middle aged men and women are hooked on drugs. Prescription drug abuse is seriously out of control.

While all of this is terrible news for the country and for individual families struggling to deal with addicted loved ones, it’s also bad news for the workforce. Sectors of the economy who traditionally hire workers with a high school diploma or some college education are finding it hard to locate applicants who can pass a drug test. For some jobs, the cost of showing up to work impaired is lost business or lost productivity, but in areas like manufacturing or auto repair, it can mean injury or even death on the job.

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Auto repair shop owners simply cannot afford to take a chance hiring a worker who takes drugs. Safety is of course the most important consideration, but liability is something every company owner must face now. One serious lawsuit can mean the difference between operating and closing the business’s doors for good. Additionally, drug addicted people are less sharp and less healthy, and they can further contribute to skyrocketing health insurance costs. Rehab is unbelievably expensive. Younger people are supposed to be the cheaper worker population to insure, but drug abuse is skewing those numbers.

In July the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, weighed in on how opioid abuse is affecting the U.S. economy, linking it to declining participation in the labor force “among prime age workers.” A Goldman Sachs economist also blamed drug use for why more otherwise capable workers are not seeking employment.

In 2013 opioid abuse cost the economy $78.5 billion according to a federal study. Those are just numbers to most of us, but to employers it means it’s increasingly difficult to find people willing and able to work jobs that need to be filled, many of them far better paying than minimum wage jobs. The supply of good workers has simply decreased.

How has your auto repair shop felt the effects of the new American drug epidemic?



  1. Drugs and related crime have become a HUGE problem in our rural area. Not only does drug use (opioids, meth, marijuana, etc.) shrink the pool of trustworthy working techs, they can make really good money growing marijuana (not necessarily legally) in our state (and the government doesn’t have a way to attach marijuana money for child support or alimony.) Growing has become VERY lucrative. (We had one tech quit to become “self employed”. Guess what? There haven’t been any new auto shops opened in our area.). We decided to downscale our business and have 2 technicians who are family that we know we can trust. Though we don’t generate the profits we did with an extra tech, employee morale is back up and we have a team that works well together with FAR fewer headaches and lower liability.

  2. We have many clients in states that have legalized Mary Jane (showing my age with that nomenclature), big problems especially if your garage policy requires drug screen. And Opi will be just as bad. BTW, pot legalization got way more votes this past Nov than any candidate in that state, does that tell you something?

  3. I had one of the best techs around. He worked at the dealer in his late 20’s and a transmission fell. He injured his back and the so called Dr’s prescribed him oxy.

    He was a 6 figure tech in his late 20’s a shop foreman at 2 dealers and a regional trainer for a major manufacturer.

    Kids lost, a house that was paid for was. 12 years he is fighting the opioid addiction.

    BAN OPIOIDS for back pain only use it for cancer or something similar. Nothing good comes from it there are many other far less adictive drugs.

    the US uses more opioids than the whole world.