How We Can Solve the Addiction Crisis

November 03, 2016 | Kevin Kirby, CEO Featured

The knee-jerk response to the deepening addiction crisis has been to look to the government and public officials for solutions. This is a mistake. The real driver for change must come from the private sector.

Close to 70% of those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction go to work.  Another 3-4 family members are affected at home. But only 10% of those who need help will get treatment in a given year. Most continue to hide their disease due to stigma, shame and fear, driving tremendous costs in the workplace.

Unfortunately, employers have historically been ignored or perceived as adversaries by many in the traditional recovery movement. But because employers and the private sector bear some of the greatest costs when it comes to addiction, they're also positioned to effect the greatest change.

  • In 2010, excessive drinking cost the U.S. $249 billion, mostly due to reduced productivity, crime, and the cost of treating related health problems. 
  • On average, untreated addiction in the workplace costs employers $1,700 per employee per year. 
  • Addiction problems cost business 500 million workdays annually. 
  • People with an alcohol problem use twice as much sick leave and are five times more likely to file workers' compensation claims.
  • Health care costs for employees with addiction problems are twice those for other employees.
  • Individuals with addiction problems are far more likely to have worked for three or more employers in the previous year. 

Since 2009, we’ve been working in partnership with employers to help their employees and family members get well from addiction.  Our innovative program brings culture change and peer support to the workplace to improve the bottom line.

We offer employers a powerful value proposition: we help them address one of their most pressing and costly workforce issues.  Our work leads to stronger employee engagement and productivity, and reduced attrition and operational costs. 

Our focus is culture change. We help employers integrate addiction into their chronic disease management or wellness programs. The goal is to remove stigma, fear and other barriers to seeking help.

The program is customized and easy to implement. Key elements include:

  • Workplace education and outreach
  • Coordination with EAPs, wellness and benefits programs
  • Supervisor training and HR support
  • Peer recovery coaching and navigation to services (virtual or in person)
  • Co-Workers in Recovery peer support program
  • Outcomes measurement

An example of the initiative in action is with Raven Industries, a publicly held technology company based in Sioux Falls, SD. Over the past four years, our work with Raven has led to more than a dozen employees coming forward for help.  Raven has invested $44,000 in the program and estimates a return on investment multiple times that due to employee retention and other costs savings. Learn more from our case study on the partnership.

People suffering from addiction spend about one third of their lives at work. As we tell the employers we work with, solving addiction will not only get people well, it is good for business. And it’s also good for our communities. Real and meaningful solutions to addiction will only come when we face these challenges together.

Hear from people we’ve helped. Watch a video on our workplace partnerships.