While the COVID-19 pandemic may have pushed the opioid crisis off the front pages the last couple of years, its impact on overdose deaths across southern Ohio has not slowed and is still well documented.
Since 2016, for instance, Ross County has recorded more than 250 deaths attributed to overdoses, with a single-year record of 62 set in 2021.
“In my last conversation with the coroner’s office, I learned it looks like we’re going to set another record this year if the rates continue as they are,” said Dr. John Gabis, Adena medical director of community partnerships. “That’s not just doom and gloom, that’s saying that we have to stay in this fight. That is why employers are so important because getting people back to work, getting them a renewed sense of self-worth and recognition that they have a purpose, have worthwhile work, have a reason to get out of bed and work hard is critical to that fight.”
Gabis, who was instrumental in the creation of what is now known as the Hope Partnership Project (HPP) in 2015 and still serves as chair of its board of directors, made his remarks during the first event of a new Breaking the Stigma campaign tied to substance use and opioid use disorders. Hosted by Adena Health System as part of its longstanding involvement with the HPP and its commitment to community partnerships, the event brought together several area employers to discuss how creating recovery-supportive workplaces can have a big impact on the opioid crisis while also addressing their own growing workforce staffing needs.
During the four-hour program, an array of speakers outlined the importance of second chances and support services in the workplace for those in recovery, provided an overview of opioid and employer tool kits available to help in that effort, presented organizational resources that employers can connect with, and offered an update on HPP efforts and successes.
The HPP, which began with a grant in 2015 as the Heroin Partnership Project before a name change better reflected a renewed focus on the future, now has about 60 community partners and 150 individual members serving on either its board of directors, advisory committee or in other roles within the collaborative. It, working through its community partnerships, has been responsible for several positive developments in the fight against addiction. Among those has been creation of a Post-Overdose Response Team, expansion of the number of peer recovery supporters who bring their own experiences with addiction and recovery to bear in helping others seek treatment, efforts to target the root of childhood traumas that can lead to addiction in young people, and making harm reduction kits more widely available.
In addition, the HPP has worked with Adena Regional Medical Center to create a behavioral assessment unit in the emergency department which can conduct screenings and make referrals for treatment or detox, if necessary. Three years ago ARMC also created Project EDINS (Emergency Department Intercept and Navigation to Support), which identifies patients coming into the emergency department or inpatient units who show signs of substance use disorder and connects them with a program coordinator who can work with them to find and take advantage of needed resources.
The Breaking the Stigma event was one of the first forays into actively engaging the business community in partnering on a proactive approach to the addiction crisis. It is an essential segment to target since an estimated 70 percent of those with substance use disorder are active in the workforce.
“So the people who are in your factories, in your organization, in your offices, in the cubicle next to you may be battling this and they’re not talking about it because it’s not socially acceptable,” Gabis said.
Regina Bond, from Canal Winchester-based Working Partners, said that as the lingering impact of the pandemic on the available labor pool continues to put pressure on staffing at many businesses, some employers have been relaxing their previous rules around such things as drug testing. Noting that those in recovery often become some of the most loyal, hard-working and creative employees looking to prove themselves, she encouraged employers to utilize available resources that can help them create recovery-supportive workplaces.
That means putting in place drug-free policies and procedures that are fair, consistent and ensure the safety of everyone; providing employee education and awareness; enhancing supervisor training regarding how to handle addiction issues; implementing a drug testing program; and offering employee assistance programs that match those needing recovery assistance to the resources that can help them.
The event was just the first step in attempting to break the stigma in the workplace surrounding addiction and recovery. By continuing to build on existing partnerships and engaging a growing number of individuals and organizations in the fight against addiction, the outlook for the future – both for those in recovery and the community at large – will get ever brighter.
“When we talk about hope, it can start out as a whisper,” Gabis said. “But it becomes a roar.”
To learn more about Adena’s community health efforts and behavioral health services, visit Adena.org.
Submitted by Jason Gilham, communications manager, Adena Health System.