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U.S. Opioid Crisis Draining the Workforce; A Young Scientist`s Effort to Detect Lead in Drinking Water

Aired February 28, 2018 - 04:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN 10 ANCHOR: The U.S. government is creating a task force specifically focused on tackling the nation`s opioid crisis. That and how

the crisis is affecting America`s workforce is our first subject today on CNN 10.


JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Our nation is facing the deadliest drug epidemic in our history.


AZUZ: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the government is committed to reducing the amount of prescription opioids that are in the U.S.,

reducing the number of addictions and reducing the number of overdose deaths that drugs can cause. The Trump administration says in 2016, an

estimated 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, the highest number ever recorded, and that preliminary information suggests that 2017 was even

worse. It says overdoses of opioids, which include prescription painkillers, heroin and synthetic drugs, made up the vast majority of drug


Critics have said that through this January, the Trump administration hadn`t committed enough funding to make a noticeable difference in the

opioid epidemic.

The White House says its $6 billion increase for the fight against opioids which President Donald Trump signed earlier this month was the most the

government had ever committed to the cause.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taft Farms has been in the family for decades. Dan Tawczynski and his son Paul

have seen every kind of economy, but this, this is new.

PAUL TAWCZYNSKI, CO-OWNER, TAFT FARMS: We have had ads running in the paper, ads running online. And I have a stack of applications of people

that I wouldn`t dream of hiring.

ROMANS: A shortage of workers.

P. TAWCZYNSKI: Qualified people are few and far between. It`s not that people can`t run a cash register. It`s not that people can`t make a

sandwich. When you look at their job history and it`s one after another, after another, and you realize this isn`t an employable person.

DAN TAWCZYNSKI, CO-OWNER, TAFT FARMS: It seems as though all the employable workers are employed.

ROMANS: The job market is booming. But the percentage of Americans working or looking for work is near a 40-year low.

Economist Alan Krueger noticed a link between the missing workers and opioid use.

PROFESSOR ALAN KRUEGER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: If you look at the counties where more medication is being prescribed, we`ve seen a bigger drop in the

labor force participation rate for both men and for women. An increase in the prescription rate can account for between 20 percent and 25 percent of

the decline.

ROMANS: Contractor John O`Brien knows the signs.

JOHN O`BRIEN, CONTRACTOR: I have a little list in my head of things I watch for. Person X is really, really good on certain days, and on other

days it looks like he`s just completely lost. A guy who has a backpack and he`s very protective of it and he brings it absolutely everywhere we go and

it`s always that big backpack. That`s a really good red flag.

ROMANS (on camera): Have you ever hired somebody and then realize quickly, oh, no, I have a substance abuse issue here that`s not safe.

P. TAWCZYNSKI: Unfortunately, all too many times. I`ve had to let people go in literally in every aspect of the business, from out in the field to

in the back, in the kitchen, in the store. We`ve also dealt with a lot of people that are going through the recovery process and there are stages and

there are relapses.

And unfortunately, if there`s even the slightest relapse, you can`t take it. We have to let some people go that you really root for and you want to

make it and you can see the potential, but you also as a business owner, you can`t hold that person`s hand through the process.

D. TAWCZYNSKI: I have to look at it from this standpoint. Is this a person I would put on a $50,000 piece of equipment and turn loose in a

field where they could wreak havoc.

(voice-over): This is a new part of the economic story, the opioid epidemic, a personal tragedy now holding back the labor market.

KRUEGER: We have an epidemic that is killing over 30,000 people a year. That`s going to have macro economic consequences. And we`re pretty close

to full employment now. If the U.S. is going to see faster growth, it`s going to come about because we find workers somewhere.

The best source, I think are the workers who are at the labor force trying to figure out ways to make it possible for them to regain their footing and

return to the labor force.

ROMANS: That`s what Dr. Jenny Michaels does for a living. She is the medical director at the Brien Center for Addiction Treatment.

DR. JENNY MICHAELS, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BRIEN CENTER: We have a lot of ignorance about this disease. A person with addiction has a brain that`s

different than a person who does not have this disease. But we struggle with that, and we judge people and we also love to punish them. We love to

put them in jail rather than rehabilitating them.

ROMANS (on camera): For so many years, it`s almost very American to define yourself by what you do.

MICHAELS: Right now, they`re being defined by their addiction. An addiction is one of the most stigmatizing diseases in the world.

ROMANS (voice-over): Amy Borden was once one of those missing workers.

(on camera): Being addicted is like a full time job with overtime.

AMY BORDEN, FORMER OPIOID ADDICT: Yes, it`s every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That`s the only thought in your mind. And it`s a job

that you can`t get fired from. I would work a month and then quit, or be fired because I didn`t show up.

ROMANS (voice-over): That checkered work history, a red flag for small business owners. At 47, Borden has been in recovery for nearly 11 years.

She says the gaps in her resume made employers hesitant to hire her.

BORDEN: I filled out numerous applications that I didn`t even get a call. So, a lot of times, there wasn`t even the opportunity to say this is what

happened. This is why there`s the gaps.

ROMANS: Amy is now by all accounts a success story. Treated at the Brien Center, she now works here, helping other people through recovery.

(on camera): When you think of the hurdles to getting to where you are and then to hear from employers who say, you know, I just -- I`m not ready to

hire somebody in recovery.

BORDEN: I think the judgment and the stigma has to go away. It has to. You have to listen to the person and just be understanding that it`s a

disease. Without financial stability, most people will relapse because of the stress of, how do I support my family? So we have to be given the


MICHAELS: It`s not a death sentence. If someone has diabetes that`s not treated, they`re not going to do well. But if we treat that disease, the

sky is the limit, you know? It`s true for addiction also.

ROMANS (voice-over): Treating the epidemic, imperative for families, communities, and business.

(on camera): So you can really see how not being able to get workers can hold back how much you can grow and how much business you can do.

O`BRIEN: Absolutely. I can hire two guys, three guys today. And it makes expanding my business very difficult not having the resources to get

everybody who`s calling. With the business owners, they`re just sick and tired of seeing the same old, same old. Hearing the same excuses, having

the same problems that in the end really does come down to hurting the wallet.



AZUZ (voice-over): Ten-second trivia.

Which of these organizations was established in 1945?

The League of Nations, the United Nations, the Red Cross, or the Council of Europe?

It was the United Nations that was established in 1945, though U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited with first using the term in



AZUZ: According to the World Health Organization, which is part of the United Nations, more than 2 billion people around the world don`t have

clean drinking water in their homes. That`s about 28 percent of the entire world`s population.

And one threat that can hide in water is lead. It`s a toxic metal the U.S. government says no amount of it is safe, but there are some people working

on ways to help others avoid it.


GITANJALI RAO, INVENTOR: My name is Gitanjali Rao. I am 12 years old. I`m in seventh grade and I go to STEM School Highlands Ridge.

So I developed a device to detect lead in water fashioned in current techniques out there today. It uses nanotube-based sensor in order to give

you instantaneous results on your smart phone of safe, slightly contaminated or critical of the lead status in your water.

I was originally introduced to the Flint water crisis through a STEM lab. And it was just appalling to see the number of people who were affected by

lead in water.

I partnered with Denver Water and I am working on performing my tests and doing research there. So, at this point, I am working on redesigning the

device structure, refining my sensors, adding various tables and charts for more accurate values.

I want to see this in the market so that every -- it`s in everyone`s hands in the next year.


AZUZ: It`s common for guests to fly in for a news interview. But well, what I love about this is how the anchor reacts. Michelle Media just

settles in and rolls with it. The bird, a scarlet ibis, wasn`t exactly an intruder. It was there for an upcoming segment on the San Diego Zoo. It

just couldn`t wait for it live shot.

Medina said it was a good thing she had a lot of hair spray and that as a working mom, it felt nice to get a little scalp massage.

So, next time someone says broadcasting for the birds -- maybe the animal was thinking ibis I could get more airtime. Maybe it was hoping to plant

the seed for a career on birdcasting. Oftentimes on the air, you just got to wing it, though you know that viewers could tweet about it later.

I`m Carl Azuz and we`ll be beck tomorrow on CNN 10.