Drug policies can help curb addictions

Workplaces are underrepresented as a part of the solution to addiction education, intervention and recovery, according to a senior director with a company that designs drug policies for employers.

Karen Pierce, managing director of policy development and training at Working Partners, spoke Friday at the third drug summit hosted by ASAP — Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, a division of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

The event drew 200 people — teachers, counselors and other professionals connected to or concerned about the trends and impact of drug use, said April Caraway, executive director of the board. Presentations this year included talks on the physical effect drugs and alcohol have on the brain, the relationship between addiction and trauma, recovery housing, the role of faith in recovery and several other topics, including the impact of addiction on employers and employees.

Business has long been all but ignored in discussions about addiction, Pierce said.

“Drugs were a back-burning issue for a long time. It isn’t any more, drugs are a front-burning issue for employers, now,” Pierce said.

Drug policies are moving to the forefront of business owners’ minds because the drug problem is hitting companies where it hurts — the bottom line, Pierce said.

It is harder and harder to find employees who can pass drug tests, but loosening standards may increase liability, Pierce said.

It can cost more money to fire an employee and find, replace and retrain a new one, than to craft a policy that protects the employer and perhaps offers employees a chance to reform, Pierce said. Businesses have to make up their own minds about how to treat employees who test positive, but having a structure in place to address the discovery of illegal drug use can ease that process, Pierce said.

The number of people aged 18 to 26 use drugs more frequently than they did in the past, even as fewer school-aged kids are using them, Pierce said.

Evidence-based drug prevention programs are key to the decrease for school-age kids, Pierce said.

But what is being done to ensure young adults don’t develop an illicit drug use problem? Pierce asks.

“Nothing. We think it’s too late to reach them by then,” Pierce said.

But it isn’t, Pierce said.

Workplace programs designed to educate workers and reduce substance abuse can lead to fewer claims to workers compensation, plus a rebate from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

The bureau’s Drug-Free Workplace Program provides workers’ compensation premium discounts to employers that offer programs meant to deter substance abuse, rehabilitate workers. Employees using opioids are four times more likely to file a claim with the bureau, Pierce said.

The deadline for private businesses to apply for the program is May 31, while public employers have a deadline in November. While many large employers have programs, smaller businesses don’t yet, Pierce said.

Tammi Krafft, in charge of hiring at First Step Recovery, a detoxification and rehabilitation center in Warren, said she attended Pierce’s presentation to find out more information about the way the new medical marijuana law could or should change the company’s policies.

The law gives businesses a lot of leeway in determining whether or not to accommodate users of the drug who have been issued cards after getting approval from their doctors, starting in September 2018, Pierce said.

But it is still important to have a policy in place now, because businesses need the policies in place to support their decisions later, Pierce said.

Businesses have a lot of questions right now, Pierce said. Some are wondering if they should stop testing for marijuana completely, to avoid getting in between physicians and patients. With marijuana testing, there will be no medical review officers checking to see if someone’s prescription is valid, because a marijuana card is not a prescription, Pierce said.

It will be up to the employer to verify and OK the use for employees who test positive for marijuana, Pierce said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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