I am honored to have been asked to write the first Guest View in the 28-year history of Strictly Business. Herb didn’t ask me to write this because I am his son; he asked me to write it because I have a unique understanding of a topic that was discussed at every table during December’s Strictly Business Forum—the opioid epidemic.
My grasp of this problem comes from personal experience. I have been in long-term recovery from addiction issues for nearly 30 years.
Here are some hard facts I’d like you to consider. In 2015 more than 20.5 million Americans over the age of 12 had a sub- stance abuse problem and more than 2 million were dependent on or abused pain pills or street drugs. That same year more than 52,000 people in the United States died of an overdose. That’s an average of 91 a day. The people caught up in this crisis are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, your friends, your co-workers. There aren’t many families who haven’t been affected by addiction in some way.
If you are an employer, this problem is your problem. Addiction likely affects one or more of your employees and it certainly affects your ability to hire and retain people.
The North Country is a can-do place and I am proud to be part of an effort to find solutions to this problem. We cannot arrest our way out of it. And any business that thinks it does not have a problem because it drug tests is naïve.
In 2015 a coalition of treatment professionals and law enforcement officials came together to address what was happening. Last year that group was expanded to include employers, elected officials, and concerned citizens. In October SPARCC (Substance Abuse Prevention & Recovery of Clinton County—I know, the letters don’t line up) sponsored a day of round-table discussions modeled
after the SB Forum. The meeting’s purpose was to bring all of the stakeholders affected by addiction under one roof to focus on prevention, treatment, and recovery. One of SPARCC’s goals is to change the way people look at addiction. It is not a moral issue; it is a healthcare issue.
The discussions helped employers understand what addicts go through, and helped treatment professionals and law enforcement to under- stand what employers need in order to run their businesses.
The next step for SPARCC is to persuade employers to take a risk on addicts. Without employment, people in recovery are isolated, they don’t have much money, and they have idle time that leads them back to where they were. Treatment and employment need to go hand in hand.
At The Northeast Group, we have hired people in recovery for the past 15 years. While not every hire has been a success, the majority have been. A job gives a recovering addict a chance to pay their bills, find a purpose, and make a contribution to the community. It takes a little flexibility on the part of the employer, but it’s worth it.
If your company is not currently involved in SPARCC, it’s time to get involved. Working together, we can make changes that will have a lasting impact. And we can save lives and families.
For more information about SPARCC and how to become part of this effort, contact John Bernardi, executive director of the United Way of the Adirondack Region at firstname.lastname@example.org.