Conference helps employers understand opioid addiction in the workplace

Indiana Workforce Recovery hosted an Employer Opioid Strategy Meeting in Lafayette on Thursday.

Posted: Mar 21, 2019 5:32 PM
Updated: Mar 21, 2019 6:22 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Indiana Workforce Recovery hosted an Employer Opioid Strategy Meeting in Lafayette on Thursday. This series is the first to equip employers with the tools needed to help struggling employees.

Mike Thibideau is the Director for the Indiana Workforce Recovery. He has been traveling the state educating employers; Lafayette was his sixth stop. He said it's time to talk about addiction in the workforce.

"We talk about the public health implications and the community implications and all the dynamics of this important medical epidemic that's going across this state, but there haven't really been a lot of focused conversations about how employers have a role in building solutions to that epidemic," he said.

And he said they have a bigger role than you might think.

“Studies show that when an employer serves as the primary advocate for care they have better short term and long term outcomes measured at one and five year intervals than any other referral source," said Thibideau, who started in this role in October of 2018. He said Indiana is the only state in the country that has a full-time persons working on this issue.

Thibideau has a very personal connection to addiction.

"I started to use back in high school," he said. "I came from a very supportive and loving family but as I got older, I think a lot of people have this sense of feeling alone in a crowded room."

He said he embodies the fact that there is no stereotypical person who struggles with addiction.

“You can still be a good kid struggle with this stuff at the same time," he said. "I was an Eagle Scout, I was the youth representative on my parish board, I was the vice president of my Model United Nations team.”

And thanks to family intervention in 2015, he got on the path to recovery and has been in active recovery ever sense. Now, it's his job to help Hoosier employers know how to handle present and potential employees who struggle with addiction.

"I somewhat joke that when my family and friends were doing an intervention for me, they didn't have to worry about the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the HPPA and a number of other privacy and HR type of regulations that are in place in the work environment."

Employers are uniquely situated to combat the opioid epidemic, considering 70% of Hoosiers struggling with substance use disorder are employed.

"That means that this is both a concern for employers looking to help their people retain that talent and also looking to engage in untapped pools of talent that are potentially coming into the workforce," he said.

Jennifer Moreland is the Director of HR at Wabash Center. She attended the conference to gain knowledge.

"We need help," she said. "We don't have all the answers as employers and we need support and we need guidance and we need education."

Moreland said one of her biggest takeaways was the free Naloxone training. This is the drug that can be used to reverse an overdose.

"You have to start somewhere and just learning what opportunities and options there are to not only support employers but support your employees I think is a great place to start," she said.

One thing that is a constant uphill battle in the world of opioid misuse disorder is stigma, and the workplace is no different.

“Stigma is an important part of the issue in that employers need to be considering it as a medical issue and not a social issue when making a hiring decision," said Thibideau.

He added while someone who is using illicit drugs or is drunk on the job or during the interview process has no rights under the ADA, someone who is in recovery from substance use disorder is considered an individual with a disability the same way if someone had any other type of chronic medical condition. But stigma may be less of a problem than you may think for those in active recovery.

“For the most part, our Indiana employers, if they are hiring individuals who are in active recovery from addiction, they won’t even know they are hiring an individual in recovery," he said.

This is the first time a conference like this has been held in Lafayette, but Thibideau said he is impressed by the strides Lafayette is making.

“I frequently tout Lafayette as one of the leading communities in the state, and as a great roadmap for what other communities should do if they want to build pathways to successful recovery,” he said.

He hopes that people will take the time to come forward to their employers about their struggle with addiction in a positive way.

“If you are employed and you are struggling with addiction, come forward to your HR representative or to a person who is capable of providing you with assistance,” he said. “While not universal, I would say the vast majority of employers that we interact with, if someone comes forward before the event of a failed test or workplace accident and requests assistance, employers will help them get assistance.”

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