The opioid epidemic in East Tennessee is also affecting the local economy and jobs, according to Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and a drug screening facility in our area.
"This impacts everyone. You can't get employees at many businesses because they can't pass drug screens," Rausch said while speaking about President Donald Trump recently declaring the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency.
A phone call to Tennessee Occupational Health echoed Rausch's statement.
"We are definitely seeing a lot more opiates," Tennessee Occupational Health's President Lisa Lane said.
Lane said they do an exceptional volume of drug screens for all types of positions, and they are seeing the opioid epidemic directly impact the results.
"It has definitely increased tremendously in the synthetic opiates," Lane added.
Lane said prior to five years ago, marijuana was the most common drug they would see on any given test, but now it's a different story.
Out of its positive drug tests, Lane said 75 to 80 percent are positive for opiates.
"It's scary. We talk about this every day in the office," Lane said.
She added they are not only seeing illegal narcotics; prescription opioids are also a concern.
"If we see they are taking three or four times the recommended dosage that may impact whether we can clear them for employment," Lane said.
There is now a push to expand a common test to include more narcotics.
The Department of Transportation, for instance, uses a five panel test that includes opiates but only codeine heroin and morphine.
"It does not pick up any synthetic narcotics," Lane said about one of the most common tests they use.
This past January, the DOT proposed to add four opioids, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone to the panel.
The Department of Transportation told 10News in a statement they are committed to working with the administration to implement aggressive new policies that combat the nation’s opioid crisis.
"The Department is currently in the process of carefully responding to the outpouring of public comments received in response to the earlier NPRM and are preparing a final rule for publication. We expect the Department’s action on opioids to make a profound impact on deterrence in the transportation industries and on deterrence in employers in other industries that are not regulated by DOT, but which follow DOT’s gold standard of drug testing."
Lane believes the panel should be expanded to help employers and employees have a test to stand behind what prescription drugs they are taking.
The DOT has yet to rule on the proposal submitted in January.