OpEd: Legislation Shows Kentuckians the Path to Long-term Recovery

Op-Ed

OpEd by Ashli Watts and Jennifer Hancock

In communities across Kentucky, substance use disorders have taken a tremendous toll. Every day we are confronted with new data, reports and headlines that remind us of addiction’s staggering ripple effect.

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 President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Ashli Watts &  President and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States, Jennifer Hancock

But we cannot forget that behind the numbers, charts, graphs and television clips are real individuals who are suffering. They are our children, parents, colleagues, neighbors and friends—and they need our support. Some just want a second chance.

Thankfully, thanks to the hard work of many different individuals and organizations, we have begun to see the focus shift more toward long-term recovery over short-term results. To that end, legislation has been filed in the General Assembly to help more Kentuckians address their substance use disorders—not only by expanding access to treatment, but by offering them more opportunities to return to meaningful, productive lives.

Senate Bill 173 (SB 173), sponsored by Sen. Matt Castlen, empowers businesses to play a greater role in addressing Kentucky’s addiction epidemic, while giving people in recovery a pathway to maintain or return to employment.

SB 173 is about giving Kentuckians that second chance.

Addiction is a health care crisis that has also significantly impacted our workforce, economy and competitiveness as a state. According to the National Safety Council, the cost of untreated substance use disorder ranges from $2,600 per employee in agriculture to more than $13,000 per employee in the information and communications sector. Employees in recovery, however, experience lower turnover rates and are less likely to miss work.

At the same time, a job and steady paycheck can be the difference between remaining substance-free and relapsing. It can be the catalyst for true, life-long, recovery.

Modeled after legislation passed in our neighboring state of Indiana, SB 173 encourages employers to support and retain employees who are working to overcome substance use disorders. It also tasks the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Office of Drug Control Policy with developing educational resources for those employers who wish to implement employer-facilitated treatment programs for employees who fail drug screenings.

This is a win-win for businesses, who will benefit from increased productivity and employee retention and lower employee health care costs, and for employees, who will feel more supported as they work toward recovery.

House Bill 284, filed by Rep. Derek Lewis, is another piece of legislation that provides a pathway to long-term recovery for one of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable populations. Under HB 284, Kentuckians on probation will have the opportunity to reduce their sentences by maintaining employment, successfully completing an approved addiction treatment program and/or obtaining a GED, technical school diploma or college degree.

The broad support for both SB 173 and HB 284 reflects the need for a truly comprehensive approach to addressing substance use disorders in Kentucky. Recovery is a lifelong journey—and while treatment is certainly a major component, we cannot overlook what follows.

From corporate offices to the criminal justice system, we must address the needs of all Kentuckians who are struggling with and impacted by substance use disorders and show them that there is indeed a future after addiction.

Ashli Watts is president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Jennifer Hancock is president and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States.

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