#36 Substance use and employers
Past articles have focused on the processes of substance misuse and its effects on individuals and families. Now we turn our attention to the impact of substance misuse on businesses and employers.
I recently had a conversation with the human resources director of a local employer who indicated how hard it is to hire people. She indicated that 50% of their applicants could not pass a drug screen. When given the opportunity for a second screen, half of those still didn’t pass. Many business leaders wonder what to do with people who fail drug screens. They are unsure of their role in assisting employees and potential employees who are struggling with substance use. Some employers have opted to stop drug testing completely.
Mike Thibideau from Indiana Workforce Recovery says that eighty percent of Indiana businesses have a need for additional employees. According to the Federal Reserve Economic Research, the August 2019 unemployment rate in White County was 2.5%. There is a desperate need for additional workers.
Seventy-five percent of Indiana employers report that substance abuse impacts the workplace in absenteeism, shortage of workers, negative publicity for the company, decreased productivity, increased insurance costs, accidents, and theft. Ninety-five percent of overdose deaths occur in working-aged adults. White County overdose deaths are no exception to these statistics.
Indiana Workforce Recovery surveys show that over 200,000 employed Hoosiers have substance use disorder, and forty-two percent of Hoosiers seeking treatment for substance use are employed. Another forty-one percent of those in treatment are looking for work. Nationally, there are 28.5 million Americans in long-term recovery and only ten percent of them are employed.
When thinking about recovery, Thibideau reports there is no greater source of change than a good job. When people receive employer supported and monitored treatment, they tend to be more successful in staying in treatment longer and maintaining long-term recovery than those referred by family and friends. Employers find that supporting their employees in treatment and recovery shows a thirty-six percent decrease in absenteeism and a thirteen percent decrease in employee turn-over rate. The financial incentive for businesses to support their employees involved in substance misuse is real.
Stigma continues to be an obstacle for working people entering treatment. In 2016, 31,000 Hoosiers wanted to engage in SUD treatment, but they chose not to get treatment for fear of losing employment. In Indiana, a failed drug screen is just as likely to result in termination as it is to lead to a referral to treatment.
Jim McClelland, Indiana Executive Director for Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement states, “Everyone understands that substance abuse in the workplace can be a problem. But there is a big opportunity here. We know that businesses need a healthy workforce and we also know that people in recovery from substance use disorder need jobs.”
Next time, we will discuss what employers can do.
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Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.