Employers Playing Bigger Role in Helping Workforce Battle Drug Dependency

(INDIANAPOLIS) – More employers are recognizing the important role they can play in assisting their workers who are battling drug dependency and misuse. That’s the message from Indiana Workforce Recovery, a partnership between the Indiana Chamber of CommerceWellness Council of Indiana (WCI) and Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration to combat the state’s drug and opioid epidemic.

Mike Thibideau, Indiana Workforce Recovery director

Perhaps the most impactful statistic, says Mike Thibideau, Indiana Workforce Recovery director, is that far fewer companies are viewing a failed drug test as an immediate cause for termination.

In 2018, more than half of employers who responded in the Indiana Chamber’s annual employer workforce survey said firing a worker after a positive drug test would be the consequence. Now, just a year later, the new survey results (released in October) show that number is down drastically to less than one-third, at 30%.

“That shift has happened for two reasons. One, good talent is hard to find and keep. But most importantly, it represents more awareness of what drug dependency really is and what it does,” Thibideau offers.

“It’s not that people don’t care about their families, jobs and all they did before substance misuse. It’s that their brains have been retrained to need the feeling that drugs provide. The good news is that damage can be undone, and the long-term success rate for an individual in recovery is much greater if their employer is engaged on their behalf.”

Indiana Workforce Recovery, formed in 2018, has seen firsthand the level of company awareness and concern increase. Thousands of executives and human resources professionals have connected with the program directly or accessed information it created for the state’s Next Level Recovery web site.

Specifically, Thibideau reports to date Indiana Workforce Recovery has provided in-person education to nearly 3,000. This includes the program’s full-day strategic sessions with employers that cover the legal aspects and policies that work for both the company and returning employees.

In addition, over the last six months, the state guidelines – which provide a blueprint for employers to follow – have been downloaded more than 1,000 times and the WCI videos, which serve in conjunction with the guidelines and take a deeper dive on the subject matters, are approaching that figure as well. 

Indiana Workforce Recovery has also distributed more than 40,000 prescription disposal kits.

“That translates to more than 1.8 million unused prescription medications no longer being on the shelves of Hoosiers – and possibly misused,” Thibideau explains.

The kit distribution was made possible through a $25,000 grant from the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative (RALI) Indiana. RALI is a diverse coalition of business and community leaders, patient organizations and other health care stakeholders dedicated to finding and supporting solutions to end the state’s opioid crisis.

RALI is awarding WCI and Indiana Workforce Recovery another $25,000 in funding to keep up the effort.

“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with the Indiana Chamber and Wellness Council of Indiana to address addiction in the workplace,” says Emily Wilson, RALI Indiana spokesperson. “Safe drug disposal education can help stop many Hoosiers from misusing medications before they ever start, and because of Indiana Workforce Recovery, employers and employees across the state have the resources and support they need to fight this epidemic.”

Adds WCI executive director Jennifer Pferrer, “We are pleased to have RALI’s continued support, which will help educate additional businesses and get more Hoosiers on the recovery path and back into the workforce.”

Pferrer also notes it’s been a group effort from many people and organizations to make progress on the opioid crisis.

“But no one has had a bigger day-to-day impact than Jim McClelland (the outgoing Indiana executive director for Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement). He oversaw the state guidelines and brought a level of compassion and seriousness to Indiana’s plight. Along with the Governor, he helped set the tone that this issue was important for the state, local communities and employers.”

Links to the employer guidelines from the state and accompanying video modules are available at www.indianachamber.com/recovery.