Employers can learn a lot from those who have successfully found long term recovery – which is why we are joining together to help people with substance use disorder and others affected by addiction. More than 200 Americans lose their lives to drug-related causes every day. Those losses have a profound effect on our families, communities, and economy.
Many companies take on health conditions in the workplace. Some companies offer sugar free options for diabetic employees in their cafeterias; others organize groups of workers to run 5Ks each October for breast cancer. It’s time we do the same for employees and families struggling and finding recovery from addiction.
Substance use disorder is a mental health disorder that has expensive and destructive effects on both the person who is suffering, and the people around them. The loss to companies in the United States due to alcohol and drug problems by employees totals $100 billion a year, according to The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. People who struggle with addiction are more likely to miss work, file worker’s compensation claims, and have interpersonal issues with other employees. The turnover rate is higher, as well. People with drug-related convictions on their record may not even be able to find meaningful employment, because they’re legally disqualified from working.
We are stakeholders in the drug epidemic, the same way businesses are stakeholders in the ebb and flow of the stock market. In an economy of people rather than dollars, every action has a ripple effect. Americans spend approximately one-third of their lives at work. Leaving addiction at the door when someone clocks in, is impossible. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), shows that between 2008 and 2012, “an annual average of 8.7 percent of full-time workers aged 18 to 64 used alcohol heavily in the past month.” As many as 8.6 percent of employees used illegal drugs in that same timeframe, and 9.5 percent of America’s workforce was “dependent on, or abused, alcohol or illegal drugs in the past year.” Ignoring or penalizing the problem solves nothing. We have to take action.
For those who disagree with the moral imperative of providing a recovery-friendly workplace for people affected by substance use disorder, let’s recognize that it’s also simply a good business practice to do so. When people feel supported at work, everyone benefits. There is lower turnover, fewer sick days, a better workplace culture, and higher productivity.
A study of the economic impact of substance use treatment in Ohio found significant improvements in job-related performance: 91 percent decrease in absenteeism; 88 percent decrease in problems with supervisors; 93 percent decrease in mistakes at work; and a 97 percent decrease in on-the-job injuries.
Rather than punish an employee for a highly treatable illness, we encourage other leaders and employers to seek accessible solutions to addiction in the workplace. People with substance use disorder are the same as employees with cancer and diabetes – their disease just happens to be highly stigmatized. Overwhelmingly, data shows that when people feel supported and have access to the resources they need to maintain their health, they do more than recover. They are also more efficient, happier, and more productive. That, in turn, makes for a better workplace for everyone. Recovery is as contagious as the substance use was, but with a positive effect rather than a deleterious one. From a business perspective, it’s better to invest in a tried-and-trained, experienced employee than hire a new person every 90 days.
Many people say that recovery is its own reward. We say, there are tangible benefits to recovery, too.
Recently, Serve You Rx created a credo that expresses its commitment to changing the culture around substance use disorder. We’ve stated our dedication to parity, fairness, and seamless access to medical treatment, recovery services, and other supports through our employee benefits and employee assistance programs. But we aren’t stopping there. We will go several steps further to create a thriving, recovery friendly workplace that nurtures healing, provides support, and eliminates shame and discrimination for employees finding recovery and their loved ones. We are going to treat addiction like what it is: a mental health disorder, not a moral failing. And we will treat our employees like the community they are. They are individuals who are supporting one another, rather than an expendable workforce.
Partnering with the national addiction recovery non-profit The Voices Project, we hope to scale this initiative and onboard other like-minded employers. Through innovation, leadership, and solid public-private partnerships, corporate America can make a significant dent in our nation’s most urgent public health crisis.
Employers and corporate leaders can instigate a new shift in thinking and cultural tipping point. Most business leaders already try to create a workplace environment that prioritizes honesty, cooperation, and mutual support which can easily extend to recovery. We will support recovery community organizations, medical professionals, and allies in our mission. We’re embracing our responsibility to stem the drug epidemic, and we call on others to follow suit.
When we recover together, we all win.
Ryan Hampton is a person in recovery from heroin addiction and author of “American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis—and How to End It,” published by St. Martin’s Press. He’s a nationally recognized activist and founder of the nonprofit advocacy organization The Voices Project.
Sharon Murillo is the CEO of Serve You Rx, a pharmacy benefit management company headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She’s also the mother of a person in sustained recovery from addiction.