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Arkansas businesses learn how to help employees as opioid crisis affects workforce

"It's disastrous, and if that workforce continues to grow through the abuse of drugs and alcohol it's going to devastate our economy," said State Rep. Brian Evans.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Even in the current economy, putting people to work involves way more than just putting out the "Help Wanted" sign. The opioid crisis is another complication, leading businesses in Arkansas to team up to help guide companies and their employees closer to a drug-free workforce.

Until recently, there haven't been many resources for companies to help and retain workers who had been functioning until their addictions caught up with them on the job.

"It's disastrous, and if that workforce continues to grow through the abuse of drugs and alcohol it's going to devastate our economy," said State Rep. Brian Evans, (R - Cabot), and owner of L&L Freight Services.

Evans knows how to get truck loads from coast to coast, but wasn't prepared when an employee unloaded on him.

RELATED: UAMS takes different approach to opioid epidemic with Peer Support Specialist

"They looked at me in the eye and said 'I need help. I have an addiction,'" he said of the person who up until then had been a model employee.

Evans recites statistics from the Centers for Disease Control that say 21-million Americans have an untreated addiction disorder. He says three out of four of them are functioning in the workforce. Arkansas statistics indicate 75 percent of employers have had to deal with an opioid issue on the job.

Business and health officials know you can't fire those millions of people. It's in their interests to help them. So now they are teaming up.

"We felt it was a good collaborative effort to come together, someone from healthcare, someone from the business community to be able to combat this issue," said Shelley Short, program and partnerships director for the Arkansas State Chamber.

RELATED: New program aims to prevent overdose deaths in Pulaski County

The collaborative effort is Together Arkansas, a website and a portal to start the process. The chamber is working with Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, and AFMC to offer the resources.

"There are five modules that they can use totally free of charge to them to help them develop a drug-free workplace program," Short said of the five sections that cover legal options, model frameworks and guidance for helping workers.

Evans is using his position as a freshman rep to spread the word and learn to guide the employee on the right path.

"It gives them an opportunity to somewhat anonymously reach out and get help potentially without implicating themselves in their job," Rep. Evans said.