- By Katie Wedell Staff Writer
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation will launch a pilot program in Montgomery County to support employers willing to hire workers overcoming a drug addiction.
The Opioid Workplace Safety Program will provide up to $5 million over two years to help employers in Montgomery, Ross and Scioto counties hire, manage and retain workers in recovery from an opioid addiction.
“Many employers are struggling to fill jobs because otherwise qualified applicants have a history of substance abuse or addiction,” said Dr. Terry Welsh, BWC’s chief medical officer. “We also know that folks in recovery have a better chance of staying sober if they have a job. What we want to do is give employers resources to help them better manage these workers so everyone wins — businesses boost productivity without compromising safety and workers have a greater chance of a successful recovery.”
As part of our initiative, The Path Forward, we’re looking for solutions to the problems holding the Dayton region back. The Path Forward recently looked at barriers to employment in recovery and found that local programs seeing success included a partnership between treatment providers and employers.
BWC will partner with each pilot county’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health board to administer the program, which includes reimbursing employers for expenses related to both pre-employement and random drug testing, training and employee support if they hire people in recovery.
Managers also will have opportunities to get trained on how to manage a workforce that includes individuals in recovery and a forum for 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. It hasn’t been determined how much each county in the pilot program will get. Employers must pay for expenses up front and apply to the boards for reimbursement.
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“This will incentivize (employers) to hire, support, retain,” said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of Montgomery County ADAMHS.
Some local employers, especially small businesses, feel burdened by the cost and time it takes to do drug testing or offer employee assistance programs, she said.
Program details are still under development and changes are likely as the pilot progresses. The pilot’s launch is scheduled for Oct. 15, followed by a statewide roll-out if it proves successful, BWC said. The funding comes from the bureau’s Division of Safety & Hygiene budget, which works to prevent occupational accidents, injuries and illness.
The pilot program will work in concert with an employer training opportunity already being run by Montgomery County ADMAHS called Working Partners. It helps businesses craft drug-free workplace policies that ensure safety and minimize liability while allowing for second-chance hiring of those with drug histories or arrest records.
ADAMHS encourages employers to find ways to help employees who are struggling rather than simply firing them, Jones-Kelley said.
“The evidence is really clear that if people are on the pathway to recovery, the best option for success is to keep them employed,” she said.
Opioid addiction, abuse and overdose deaths cost Ohio anywhere from $6.6 billion to $8.8 billion annually, according to a 2017 report from the C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy at the Ohio State University. National data shows the opioid crisis has lowered the labor force participation rate.
Since 2011, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has engaged in numerous efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, including an overhaul of its pharmacy program to better monitor and reduce dependence on opioids and other drugs among injured workers. In 2016 the Opioid Rule created several safeguards, including holding prescribers accountable if they don’t follow best practices. As a result, the agency saw opioid dependence drop 59 percent, from 8,029 workers in 2011 to 3,315 as of July 31, 2017.
“This program trains managers and supervisors on how best to work with this population to keep workers on the right track,” Welsh said. “We’ll have fewer people working while impaired, which reduces the risk for workplace accidents. In the big picture, this program helps taxpayers and all of Ohio.”
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