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Opioid Workplace Safety pilot program launches in Scioto County

PORTSMOUTH — Business leaders, addiction experts and state officials gathered in Portsmouth Tuesday morning to kick off a new pilot program aimed at mitigating the opioid epidemic’s impact on the county’s workforce and business communities.

Under the Opioid Workplace Safety pilot program, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) will provide up to $5 million over two years to help employers in Scioto, Ross and Montgomery counties hire, manage and retain workers in recovery from addiction.

“We have employers that have jobs to fill and people in recovery who want to work, but the two sides don’t often connect because of safety concerns and other reasons,” said Dr. Terrence Welsh, BWC’s chief medical officer, during a press conference at the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce. “By working with both of these populations, our hope is to help businesses become more productive and workers in recovery stay on a healthy path and become productive citizens again.”

Backed with BWC funds, the Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) boards in each county will administer the program to provide employers:

• Reimbursement for pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion drug testing;

• Training for managers/supervisors to help them better manage a workforce that includes individuals in recovery;

• A forum/venue for “second-chance” employers to share success stories, learn from each other and encourage others to hire workers in recovery.

“We have high hopes for this program because we know people in recovery need more than medical and mental health intervention to be successful — they need a job, stable housing, a positive outlook and a supportive community,” said Sue Shultz, executive director of the ADAMH board for Adams, Lawrence and Scioto counties.

Bart Frost, the human resources and safety director for nearby Taylor Lumber, said his company employs several workers who are in recovery.

“What we know from our experience is that when people want to recover from an addiction and you give them the tools, they will recover,” Frost said. “We have several workers in recovery who are committed, loyal and do very well with us because they really appreciate the opportunity.”

Added Kara Tieman, vice president of the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce:

“Investing in our workforce and partnering with businesses will benefit this entire community and help us all succeed.”

BWC held a similar event Monday in Dayton and will host another one this afternoon in Chillicothe.

Scioto County had 51 accidental overdose deaths in 2017, giving it the 10th highest overdose death rate in the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Montgomery County had 521 accidental overdose deaths, giving it the state’s highest overdose death rate for the second year in a row. Ross had 29, down from 40 in 2016, for the 14th highest rate.

National data shows the opioid crisis has lowered the labor force participation rate. In Ohio, opioid addiction, abuse and overdose deaths cost the state anywhere from $6.6 billion to $8.8 billion annually, according to a 2017 report from the C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University.