People in recovery need the benefits of employment, but many are discouraged from even looking for work. Employers need workers, but often refuse to consider the addicted. States with high opioid use problems are moving to change that and gain employment for folks in recovery and encourage employers to hire them–a true win-win opportunity.
As recently reported, a Barrington, N.H. engine-parts manufacturer has 15 openings, some vacant for months. At a drug fair there, recovering from heroin addiction, Ben Gale said: “Metal trades is like my dream job. I’ll show up early. I’ll stay late.” He needs a chance to prove it, and when he does, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll not return to drugs.
The official unemployment figure is now at a low 4.1% of the workforce, but millions of men and women in the prime working age category of 25 to 54 are not even in the workforce. The country is short of workers. It’s a reason for an employer attitude change. Only the most severely addicted users are unable to meet the demands of jobs for which they are qualified. True it is that when under the influence users can show poor judgment, but a person in recovery is typically someone who got hooked as a teenager and is now more mature and motivated to straighten up.
New Hampshire Governor Sununu has begun a program to certify willing businesses as “recovery friendly.” A website will be available to job seekers to help them find the new opportunities. Sununu pointed out that people climbing out of addiction need help, and benefit from the stability, financial independence and purpose that a steady job offers. Employers need better education on addiction and recovery. The State will offer training and consultation to businesses willing to participate
Other states are looking at similar measures. Ohio is another state with a major opioid use problem. That state’s Attorney General Mike DeWine has announced new incentives for businesses to hire people who have completed a treatment program. In Massachusetts and Tennessee people in recovery are receiving help to prepare for job searches.
Employers should expect and allow for occasional relapse. The relapse experience is part of the process of learning to overcome cravings, while unemployment works against recovery–saddling the addicted with social isolation, idleness, lack of monetary resources and constricted opportunities for healthy recreation.
Employers who say, “that’s their problem, not mine–and I’m not going to let it be my problem by hiring drug addicts,” think that’s a businesslike attitude, but may miss out on great employees who could be more than productive enough to compensate for the risks of hiring them. And in today’s go-go economy, doing business with a short staff short can spell a costly loss of opportunity.
Besides, most jobs can be performed even by employees who are using. A relapse episode is not going to wreck the business of a restaurant or a clothing retailer or of many other businesses, where employee functions do not involve risks of physical harm or costly administrative mistakes.
Employers who have thought of the drug addicted as incompetent or mentally inferior, need to learn two realities: (1) most people in recovery have a great shot at overcoming addiction and performing their jobs productively, and (2) it is not difficult for an employer to determine if an employee is drug impaired on a given day and deal with it appropriately, as with any other minor business administration issue.
Let’s hope this idea spreads and all states get to work on it.
© Rights reserved to Dave Finch 1/30/2018
For more information about reforms that work see my book Kill the Drug Trade, Ending the War on Drugs in a System of Toleration, Counseling and Control, and visit Reform Drug Policy Project where you can sign up to receive my blog posts.