The impact of opioids and weapons

As the advocate for Ohio’s businesses, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce often talks about “affordable health care,” “a balanced and predictable judicial system” or “a competitive tax climate.” While we won’t stop advocating on these issues, we are increasingly aware we need to be involved in a broader spectrum of subjects like the opioid epidemic and weapons on business property.

These “new” issues directly impact the workplace and workforce.

Opioid epidemic

Ohio leads the nation in drug overdose deaths — 4,149 at the halfway mark this year, far outpacing last year’s record of 3,050 deaths. We also lead the nation with the most opioid overdoses, the highest number of deaths due to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, and the most heroin deaths.

After much discussion, the Ohio Chamber’s board of directors formed an Opioid Task Force to explore what role the chamber can play in helping to solve this statewide crisis.

We learned that drug usage — whether prescription or street drugs — is having a major impact on Ohio’s workforce. Employers can’t hire much-needed employees because they can’t pass drug tests, while others have employees or family members dealing with drug addiction. The Task Force heard from people in the mental health arena, those who deal with treatment and those who help curtail the distribution and usage of prescription and street drugs.

We are working with our member, Working Partners, to develop a training video. Working Partners has helped over 1,700 Ohio companies implement and maintain a drug-free workplace. The video will educate employers on recognizing drug abuse, how to provide assistance, legal implications and more. We hope to have it available free of charge in the next several months.

Weapons and property rights

Since concealed carry passed in 2003, the Ohio Chamber has advocated for employers’ rights to prohibit weapons on their property. Alarmingly, lawmakers made two changes recently — with a third making its way through the legislature — that interfere with an employer’s right to decide whether to allow weapons on its private property.

Last December, a bill banned employers from prohibiting firearms in private vehicles parked on their property. In June, as part of the state budget, lawmakers added a penalty provision for employer violations of that statute. It would have created civil liability for businesses and property owners — to include damages, attorneys’ fees and court costs — for any violations. The Ohio Chamber convinced the legislature to alter it to only allow an individual to seek injunctive relief for an alleged violation of the law. While an improvement, this is still problematic.

Less than a week later, HB 233, which allows a concealed handgun license holder to carry any “deadly weapon” onto or into a private business and face no criminal repercussions, so long as the individual leaves upon request, passed the House. In addition to removing existing criminal penalties, HB 233 takes away the ability for a business or property owner to pursue any civil action for trespass against the person.

When the General Assembly returns, we will continue to advocate for the employers’ right to decide if weapons are allowed on their property.

While these issues may have been seen as more “social,” they affect the workplace. They can impact the economic competitiveness and growth of Ohio businesses and thus deserve our attention just as any of our “traditional” issues do.

Andrew E. Doehrel is the President and CEO of Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio’s largest and most diverse statewide business advocacy group, has been a consistent voice for business since 1893. As the state’s leading business advocate and resource, the Ohio Chamber aggressively champions free enterprise, economic competitiveness and growth for the benefits of all Ohioans.