Op-Ed: Opioid Crisis: Employment Key to Recovery

Line of young people sitting by wall while waiting for their turn for interview

By Dave Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

Kentucky’s business community has become acutely aware over the past year that the state’s opioid epidemic is more than a public health issue. It has become a serious workforce issue, and employers are feeling its impact firsthand. As businesses struggle to find and retain workers, the opioid crisis is making their challenges even greater.

The Kentucky Chamber, in a 2017 report, took a deep dive into Kentucky’s low workforce participation rate and found that the opioid epidemic, and incarceration due to drug charges, are leading factors in Kentucky’s lack of workers.

The Chamber recently convened a roundtable with businesses leaders from five of our surrounding states that have been particularly hard hit by the epidemic to discuss the opioid crisis as a workforce problem and develop a way forward.

After the event, all five state chamber presidents sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members of Congress, encouraging them to find a policy solution that focuses on treatment with a specific goal: getting people on the path to recovery and back into the workforce.

Following the business community’s recommendation, Senator McConnell introduced the CAREER Act, which will ensure patients in recovery have the resources they need to return to healthy, productive lives and reenter the workforce. He listened to our concerns and came up with a thoughtful solution to help address this crisis – a great example of how the process should work.

The CAREER Act proposes a five-year pilot program in five states that have been hit hardest by the opioid epidemic to offer wrap-around support services for individuals transitioning out of treatment programs and back into the workforce. These services will include workforce training and transitional housing.

Kentucky Congressman Brett Guthrie is also championing a critical piece of legislation, the Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers Act, to make sure people have access to all the available treatments they need to beat opioid addiction. Together, these forward-thinking policies will help address the opioid epidemic from treatment through recovery and reintroduction into the workforce.

Addiction is a lifelong disease, and individuals need support that extends beyond the doors of a treatment center. They need a path forward to help them beat addiction and reduce the chances of relapse. The Kentucky business community wants to be part of the solution. We know that a job and employment can be key to sobriety. Helping people get healthy and back to work will benefit those individuals, but it also will benefit employers, businesses, our communities and the state as a whole.

Kentucky is fortunate to have such strong leadership from Senator McConnell and Congressman Guthrie.  We are thankful for their work to advance these important policies to address what has become the human capital crisis of our time.

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