Ohio Program to Help Employers Manage Workers in Recovery from Addiction

Ohio Program to Help Employers Manage Workers in Recovery from Addiction

The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation is launching a pilot program next month in Montgomery, Ross and Scioto counties “to support employers willing to hire workers struggling to overcome an addiction to opioids and other dangerous substances,” according to a statement from the BWC. In the two-year, $5 million program, the agency will partner with county boards of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health to identify eligible employers and employees, allocate funds, and measure the program’s success. The program will include:

  • Reimbursement for pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion drug testing;
  • Training for managers/supervisors to help them better manage a workforce that includes individuals in recovery;
  • A forum/venue for “second-chance” employers to share success stories that will encourage others to hire workers in recovery.

Under the program, BWC will allot a lump sum to each ADAMH board on a quarterly basis. Employers must pay for expenses up front and apply to the boards for reimbursement. Program details are still under development, with changes likely as the pilot progresses. The pilot’s launch is scheduled for Oct. 15.

Ohio has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, with addiction, abuse and overdose deaths costing the state between $6.6 billion and $8.8 billion a year, the bureau adds, citing a 2017 report from the Ohio State University, which also estimated that there were likely 92,000 to 170,000 Ohioans abusing or dependent on opioids in 2015. Montgomery County, centered around Dayton, recorded 521 accidental overdose deaths in 2017, the highest in the state for the second year in a row, while the other two counties participating in the pilot programs have often counted large numbers of overdoses in recent years.

The state program will augment ongoing local efforts in Ross County, the Chillicothe Gazette reports:

Officials have lauded efforts from another pilot in Ross County, the Heroin Partnership Project, for playing a part in the decrease. … The Chillicothe-Ross Chamber of Commerce already has been working with employers to develop a drug-free workplace program through its safety council and partnering with Working Partners, said Briana Hood, program manager for the council.

The efforts began as employers continued to express issues with finding potential employees who can pass a drug test and had human resource questions about implementing a drug-free workplace program which can lead to rate rebates from the Bureau of Workers Compensation. “To add the reimbursement piece, I think it shows them (employers) it doesn’t cost as much as they think. It also helps them implement it and hopefully sustain it in the long run,” Hood said.

Opioid abuse and addiction has done extensive damage to the US workforce in recent years and has had a particularly severe impact on low-income and working-class communities in Appalachia and the Midwest—though by no means only there. Dependency on prescription painkillers as well as illegal drugs like heroin has left many Americans unable to work. Drug-related deaths have also been increasing, including a growing number of overdoses in the workplace, to the point that the US Surgeon General earlier this year recommended that employers stock the opioid overdose antidote naloxone in their workplace first aid kits.

Substance abuse and addiction problems in the workforce are an unavoidable reality for many US businesses today, particularly in the hardest-hit parts of the country and in industries with high rates of workplace injury, such as manufacturing and construction. Fortunately, there are a number of ways employers can help address this crisis and encourage people suffering from addiction to recover and return to work. Some individual employers have voluntarily taken the initiative here by redesigning their drug policies around identifying employees at risk for addiction, moving them out of safety-sensitive roles, and directing them to treatment rather than simply firing them. Employers are also being encouraged to work with health insurance providers and update their insurance policies to limit the prescription of narcotic painkillers and include coverage for behavioral health and addiction treatment.