Pioneer Promotes Employers’ Role in Addiction Recovery in the Workplace

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This September marks the 25th anniversary of National Recovery Month, an annual observance that celebrates recovery and encourages us all to take action to promote the availability of effective prevention, treatment and recovery services for those in need. As responsible citizens – employers, co-workers, neighbors and friends – we need to recognize addiction as the disease it is, rather than viewing it as a choice or a moral failing.

At the national level, 23.5 million Americans – or one of every 10 of those over the age of 12 – are addicted to alcohol and drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and other national data sources. Another 20 million are in long-term recovery. Whether or not you have been personally touched by alcoholism and drug dependence, every one of us should have an interest in treatment and prevention.

Addiction is also the number one health problem in our nation and it costs us $428 billion a year. It places a significant strain on our health care system and is the primary reason we have the largest prison population in the world.

Focusing in on Washington State, alcohol and drug abuse have been calculated to cost a shocking $5.2 billion per year, according to the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. Addiction-related crime alone costs our state an estimated $1.09 billion annually.

Washington has often led the nation in how we support people who are struggling to overcome their addiction. We have the largest drug court system in the nation to enroll people in treatment rather than send them to jail. We also have stronger, more comprehensive parity laws that mandate coverage of mental health and substance abuse benefits at the same level as other medical services. But we can do more.

One important thing we can do is better support people in recovery in the workplace. Many of us have witnessed employers and co-workers rally around a person with other chronic diseases such as diabetes or cancer, and yet we often distance ourselves when we see someone struggling with alcohol or drug addiction. As employers, we need to increase our support for employees in recovery. Specifically we can:

  •  Establish a supportive leadership environment. We must foster a drug-free workplace culture and build a trusting environment where employees who are struggling have a mechanism to self-disclose and seek help. Providing a supportive workplace also helps guard against depression and anxiety, which can lead to increased absenteeism and ultimately relapse.
  • ducate the workforce about the signs and symptoms of relapse. Just like recovery is a process, relapse is typically a process that starts well before someone picks up a drink or begins taking drugs again. Changes in attitudes and behaviors are often warning signs and we can help a person ward off full relapse by training staff and supervisors to recognize these symptoms.
  • Reduce or minimize financial disincentives to treatment. Consider 100 percent coverage for all behavioral health services and paid time off for treatment. While it may sound expensive, in many cases the rewards outweigh the costs and you will generate a high level of loyalty from your employees.

  • Have a reasonable return to work plan. Just like someone with diabetes may require scheduling flexibility to accommodate dialysis appointments, recovery after a relapse may require a person to increase their treatment schedule. Be as flexible as possible in balancing your production needs with your employee’s health needs.

The bottom line is that addiction is a disease and it impacts us all. Left untreated, it destroys relationships, prevents people from contributing in the workplace, and limits their ability to be effective parents. But with proper treatment and ongoing support, people can and do recover. 

Friday, September 19, 2014