Employers must be prepared to address recovery and substance use disorder

Employment, assistance, wrap-around services, trainings, and more. These are just some of the items that leaders from across the state discussed Tuesday at the Kentucky Chamber’s 3rd Annual Recovery Conference in Lexington.

Kentucky’s Current Reality

Van Ingram, Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, stressed that Kentucky’s struggle with substance use disorder must be addressed at the community, person-to-person level. He highlighted areas of success the state has seen in recent years including his office’s partnership with the Kentucky Chamber’s Workforce Recovery initiative that is training more than 5,000 Kentucky business leaders on the importance of being a recovery-friendly workplace. There are currently more than 18,000 fair chance employers across the state.

While Kentucky is doing many things right, Ingram said, there is bad news as well. His office will soon release a report showing a 40 percent increase in overdose deaths, much of which can be attributed to a rise in the use of fentanyl. To get Kentucky back on track, Ingraham said Kentucky must reevaluate all efforts to ensure the state is saving as many lives as possible.

Leadership Traits of Individuals with Substance Use Disorder

Jason Roop, Director of Technology Training Center at Campbellsville University presented research showing that people with substance use disorder are often goal-oriented, resilient, adaptable, and persistent. He studied characteristics of those in leadership roles who have struggled with addiction and found transformational, authentic leaders are making a powerful difference in the business community and many other sectors.


Ashley McCarty, Director of the Chamber’s Workforce Recovery Program, spoke about her own personal struggles with substance use disorder and how she is now using her experience to help Kentucky companies fix their outdated HR policies to allow for a fair chance and notice early warning signs.

McCarty, who is seven years in active recovery from opioid addiction, explained she was among the top five pharmaceutical sales reps in the country when she had a few surgeries where she was prescribed opioids for pain. It was at that point that everything began to fall apart, as she developed a dependency on those medications, her performance plummeted and she even attempted suicide.

Recovery, McCarty said, taught her she could change by being open and transparent, working to build others up, and working on herself and her own struggles. 

Krystal Grimes is a line cook at Keeneland. She is four years into her active recovery and shared her powerful story with the conference Tuesday.

Grimes said to understand her addiction, it is important to understand her childhood and the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of family members at a very young age. She was turned away by adults like school counselors and told it was her fault by her abusers. Krystal then tried to take her own life. When she woke up, her first feeling was sadness the attempt had not worked. And while the abuse stopped at that point, her feelings did not and she sought out ways to numb the pain.

As she got older, she married a man who also struggled with addiction and they had three children. She was prescribed an opioid after each c-section that made her feel like “super mom” and her tolerance grew higher over the years. 

After many years of struggles, Krystal and her husband lost their children and their home and she thought she didn’t think she had anything else to lose…until she found heroin. And things continued to get worse as she attempted to stop the pain.

Eventually, she started on Saboxone and eventually began attending classes where she met Ashley McCarty who inspired her to use the medication correctly and start doing the work.

Krystal has been with Keeneland since 2014 and she said the company has seen her struggle but continues to believe in her and provide stability, support, and much more which she said has been critical to her recovery.

The HEALing Communities Study

Dr. Sharon Walsh provided an update on the HEALing (Helping End Addiction Long Term) Communities Study, a four-year, $87 million study aimed at reducing opioid overdose deaths. Walsh noted that many silos exist between medical care, behavioral health, and recovery housing, which often makes it difficult for individuals and families to find what they need. To address this, researchers at the University of Kentucky and state leaders identified 16 counties to study and evaluate the impact of interventions, including education and distribution of naloxone, effective delivery of medication for substance use disorder, and safer opioid prescribing and distribution.

Walsh pointed to the rise of illicit fentanyl from China in U.S. markets as a key why naloxone training and distribution and a focus on medically-assisted treatment for substance use disorder continue to be so critical to helping Kentuckians reach recovery.

The ABCs of a Second Chance Champion

Goodwill Industries of Kentucky has developed second chance policies through collaboratively working within their organization to remove barriers to employment and success for individuals in recovery and/or leaving incarceration. Representatives from Goodwill presented on the implementation of new efforts to help individuals overcome reentry and recovery challenges. One Goodwill project discussed on Tuesday was the RISE program where participants can learn soft skills, financial literacy, digital literacy, communications skills, resume writing, mock interviews to address criminal history and gaps in resumes, health and nutrition, and much more. Learn more about the program here.  

Leader McConnell Discusses Substance Use Disorder from the Federal Level

Congress has approved billions of dollars to go toward substance use disorder and recovery in recent years. Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell spoke with RunSwitch PR Co-Founder and CNN contributor Scott Jennings at the conference about the work happening at the federal level to combat this epidemic.

McConnell said overall this is an issue with broad bipartisan support in Congress. He pointed to current realities the country faces coming out of the pandemic and emphasized the importance of people getting back to work, especially those struggling with substance use disorder. He highlighted the roadblocks to achieving this goal, including additional unemployment insurance payments. While Paycheck Protection Program loans and other forms of assistance have helped keep the doors open for many recovery centers, McConnell said the nation must pay attention to the ripple effects caused by the pandemic on this issue.

RECON KY Hall of Fame

RECON Kentucky, a consortium for recovery in Kentucky, announced their first inductees into the Kentucky Recovery Hall of Fame at the conference Tuesday.

Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and The Healing Place Founder Jay Davidson were honored with the title for the key roles they have played to work to solve the state’s struggles with substance use disorder.

Effective Solutions for Recovery and the Role of the Employer

Isaiah House Treatment Centers President Mike Cox shared their goals for effective treatment, including meaningful employment. Cox says when a business gives an individual in recovery a second chance, a sense of loyalty is automatically created.  The Isaiah House has proven the value of second chance employment by creating partnerships with multiple businesses willing to employ individuals in active recovery. 

Ed Early of the Isaiah House discussed the critical role of the employer in the recovery process. It begins with reducing stigma in the workplace, said Early. Employers should treat those in recovery in the same manner as other staff members: be welcoming, provide education and training, understand how to reward and hold employees accountable, and know when to retain, terminate and advance employees.

“It’s all about the opportunities they are given and the support they are shown,” said Early. 

The Tangible and Intangible Costs of Workplace Substance Abuse

Landmark Recovery National Business Development Manager Zachary Crouch talked about why individuals do not ask for help from their employers. “The real reason is stigma,” said Crouch. Crouch said the cost of not treating substance use and mental health is too expensive not to address, stating that every time a business replaces an employee it costs them six to nine months’ salary on average. He encouraged businesses to seek ways to engage employees when they are struggling with substance abuse and mental health and to encourage vulnerability, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Alcohol in the Workplace

In order to address alcohol abuse, it is critical to treat alcohol the same as a drug, said Heather Lowe, founder of Ditched the Drink. She shared her testimony of heavily using alcohol in workplace settings, which moved to her abusing alcohol at home.

More than 70% of individuals with addiction issues are currently working, Lowe stated. She said it is critical to have vulnerable conversations, know the signs of a substance use disorder, and implement successful treatment options in the workplace.

Studies show businesses that have adopted organizational change around alcohol often report improvements in morale and productivity, and a decrease in absenteeism, accidents, downtime, turnover, and theft. Also, various options for substance use disorder treatment can help lead to reduced health care costs for businesses, according to Susan Rider of Preventia Group.

Resources from the Kentucky Career Center

As employers heard about the ways addressing substance use disorder in the workplace can save businesses money, Kentucky Career Center highlighted the services their office provides that can help businesses’ bottom line. Learn more about programs like the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, the Kentucky Unemployment Tax Credit, Federal Bonding Programs, and Kentucky Essentials Skills Training by visiting kcc.ky.gov or by emailing Workforce@ky.gov.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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