Getting Opioid Addicts Back to Work

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“I won in New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den,” President Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in a January phone call.

The state of Ohio is suing five major drug companies for fueling the opioid epidemic.

The Ohio suit may have been one reason that Chip Cutter, LinkedIn editor, traveled to the Midwest, the heartland of American manufacturing, to hear the heartbreak of opioids and their affect on our workforce.

Cutter cited in an article that, “Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine estimated that 40 percent of applicants in the state either failed or refused a drug test.”

The bottom line of Cutter’s story is that addiction is decimating the workforce.

While we are dealing with a growing epidemic, I am compelled to ask: Is this only a pharmaceutical problem?

First, let’s look at access. The number of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. has declined recently, as reported in the New York Times. There has been a 12% drop in prescriptions since its peak in 2012. Yet, the death rate is climbing. For 2016, estimates show a tally of 59,000 deaths in the U.S. due to drug overdoses. In 2015, the death toll was 52,000.

Deaths rise, as the number of opioid prescriptions fall. It does not add up.

This data indicates that simply reducing supply of opioids, or prescriptions written, will not make a significant improvement. Addiction is a behavioral health issue, as well as a pharmaceutical issue.

It underscores that addiction is a disease, not a choice.

People can become addicts by obtaining drugs legally or illegally. For example, an excerpt from a June 5, 2017 New York Times article encapsulates the story of Cliff Parker:

“Heroin is the devil’s drug, man. It is,” Cliff Parker said, sitting on a bench in Grace Park in Akron. Mr. Parker, 24, graduated from high school not too far from here, in nearby Copley, where he was a multisport athlete. In his senior year, he was a varsity wrestler and earned a scholarship to the University of Akron. Like his friends and teammates, he started using prescription painkillers at parties. It was fun, he said. By the time it stopped being fun, it was too late.

In my career, I worked with an extremely successful CEO who built a significant multimillion-dollar business from scratch. The CEO was prescribed opioids for severe back pain, which led to addiction, and a severe decline in business and life. In either case of the aforementioned CEO, or Cliff Parker, both are addicts.

People that have lived with addiction understand this. Take for example, Michael Dadashi who said in this video from Fast Company, “The first time I became an alcoholic was the first time I drank.”

Today, Dadashi is CEO of Austin Texas based MHD Enterprises, an e-waste recycling company.  Dadashi gives more than e-waste a second chance; he is giving addicts a second chance too. Nearly 70% of his staff is comprised of recovering or former addicts.

Or, read about the Budget Saver twin popsicle factory in Wheeling, West Virginia. They are helping those in recovery to re-enter the workforce.

Another example of a second chance company is one I just read about: DV8 Kitchen in Lexington, Kentucky, which will open later this year. Owner Rob Perez said that a third of the restaurant’s workers will be people in the early stages of recovery from addiction.

Substance abuse and addiction in the workforce is not new. In 1988, it was reported that 79% of Fortune 1000 CEOs, state governors, and mayors of large cities, noted substance abuse as a significant, or very significant problem in their organizations.

With these numbers, Donald Trump has called the opioid crisis a state of emergency.

But, what does that mean? A state of emergency is usually for discrete disasters like Hurricane Katrina or a health epidemic like the Bird flu. Opioid addiction, and addiction overall in the U.S., and for that matter the globe, is a persistent societal issue.

It will take the government, pharmaceutical companies, rehab clinics and programs, and companies in general to provide the help needed to bring addicts back to life and back to work. The opioid epidemic is complex. If, as Hillary Clinton wrote, It Takes a Village to raise a child, it absolutely takes a village to bring an opioid addict back to life and back to work. After all, we are all someone’s child.

So, what can you do? Ask your company if it has a program to help and hire recovering addicts. If your company does, support it. If your company does not, help to get one there. See if your company can partner with rehab facilities and create a back to work program. See if there are programs to mimic like MHD Enterprises.

Our goal is to never hear the words “drug-infested den” again.

This post appeared on the LinkedIn Influencer page of Rob Wyse on August 12, 2017 and can be viewed there by clicking here.
Rob Wyse (@robwyse) is Managing Director, New York, of Capital Content, where he advises thought leaders and writes about issues that drive economic opportunity, improve the environment, and lead to positive social change. His areas of focus include for-benefit enterprises, climate change, interfaith understanding, jobs and the economy, Internet access, and healthcare reform.