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Drug Abuse Stems Labor Pool

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Gregg Fore isn’t surprised when people who apply to work for his RV supply business cannot pass a drug test.

More than half of all applicants who come through the door are drug users, he said in a report by the Indianapolis Star.

“Certainly, a majority of applicants in the current environment cannot pass,” said Fore, president of Elkhart-based Dicor Corp., which makes sealants, roofing and specialty products for recreational vehicles. “More than half cannot pass the controlled substance requirements.”

Fore’s story is one that resonates through the Indiana business community. The unemployment rate, which was 5.2 percent in April and has hovered near that mark for months, has created a shrinking applicant pool filled with undesirable candidates.

The problem has been more pronounced in Indiana because of the state’s growing number of opiate addicts, experts said.

Employers are reporting an increase in the number of potential employees who are drug users, compounding the facts that many available Hoosier workers are unskilled and unable to perform midrange manufacturing jobs.

Drug use while operating heavy machinery, driving a transport vehicle or working around hazardous materials can lead to serious injury or death.

According to data compiled by Quest Diagnostics, a laboratory that performs workplace drug testing, illicit drug use is increasing among U.S. workers. The company found that of 6.6 million urine tests performed in 2014, 4.7 percent of workers tested positive for drugs, up from 4.3 percent in 2013.

Although Quest Diagnostics’ data don’t include a state-by-state breakdown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Indiana as one of the worst states in the nation for drug poisoning mortality rates. The state had 1,172 drug-related deaths in 2014.

Indiana leads the nation in manufacturing employment — almost 17 percent of the state’s workforce is employed by manufacturers. More than 30 percent of the state’s gross product is manufacturing, again placing Indiana ahead of all other states.

Fore said drug use presents a huge liability for manufacturers because there is a greater risk of injury or death while working. Dicor makes paneling for RVs using a large machine, and if someone was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it could lead to a hazardous situation, he said.

“I don’t believe the employer can afford to take any potential risks as it relates to controlled substance issues,” Fore said. “In our company, we will not accept any risk in that regard. If it’s an issue, the employee knows what the consequence is.

“If there’s an accident in the workplace, we will test those who are involved in any accident, and if they are found with drugs in their system, they will be terminated.”

The shrinking applicant pool has created a challenging environment for manufacturers that want to ramp up, said Christine Scullion, vice president of human resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. Drug use has added to the litany of problems employers face when they want to expand, she said.

Almost all U.S. manufacturers — 82 percent, according to an association survey — think they will have trouble hiring to meet increased customer demand, Scullion said.

For Fore, there’s no easy solution to the problems employers face. The demand has outstripped the supply, and businesses will have to temper their growth if they can’t find drug-free employees, he said.

“You’re never going to get an equal balance if our demand doubles for workers,” Fore said. “We’re probably not going to double the number of qualified workers.”

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