Helping drug addicts recover a great workforce development strategy

By KATHY MILES

Boyle County ASAP

We’re finally getting it in Kentucky – creating jobs is not going to automatically bring about community prosperity and high employment rates. A healthy, educated and motivated workforce has to be in place.  And health includes much more than physical health — although that is very important.

On Labor Day — when we paused to honor the contributions of our American workers — a headline in the Lexington Herald-Leader was attention-getting: “Jobs are Here; Kentucky’s Workforce Needs Addiction Treatment” was the title of an article by Dave Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Adkisson’s article praised the recent increase in new jobs in our state, while decrying the continued decline in workforce participation of Kentuckians. He correctly attributed much of that decline to the staggering number of Kentuckians addicted to opioids, other drugs and alcohol. He couldn’t have summarized the need for change more succinctly than in his closing sentence: “Only by getting more individuals on the path to recovery will Kentucky truly thrive and reach its full potential”.  

His message definitely speaks to us in our part of the state. Although technically located outside of the Appalachian counties hit hardest by the opioid crisis, Boyle and the surrounding counties have high numbers of overdose deaths, failed pre-employment drug screens, drug-related arrests, family problems indicative of alcohol and drug addiction, and physical health problems, which are related to substance-use disorders. All of these related issues contribute to challenges for employers in hiring and retaining good employees. They also present challenges for our economic development professionals as they work to attract new businesses to our community.  

The Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) has been in our local news a lot lately. Most everyone knows that changes are in the works for the organization responsible for attracting new businesses and their accompanying jobs to Boyle County. The structure of the EDP Board of Directors is going to change. An important additional change is related to the issue of workforce development. The EDP will be assuming a local leadership role in improving and increasing our workforce.  

Our EDP Executive Director Jody Lassiter and his staff are constantly faced with questions from potential new employers about the workforce. Is the number of able workers sufficient? Are educational and training programs in place in the community that match the workplace needs? Does the community work together to address workforce problems in a collaborative manner?

The best economic development professionals in the world can’t have good answers to these questions without a lot of community commitment. It’s not fair to hold our local EDP responsible for attracting new jobs without helping them build the resources necessary to sustain those jobs. The fact is that we need all the workers we can get to help move our community forward.  

It is worth dreaming about the economic benefits of having many of those over 300 people in our detention center on any given day able to work, adequately support themselves and their families, pay taxes, and spend money in our local economy. Although our jail inmates are only a portion of local folks who are not employed and productive, changing their numbers alone can make a big difference.

The detention center staff, Boyle County Fiscal Court, other county leadership and the Joint Jail Committee saw that when deciding to contract with the Shepherd’s House to provide an intensive outpatient (IOP) program treating those with substance-use disorders. Hope Network saw that when they joined the initiative to develop the Circle of Hope Jobs Program for people in the program.  Research is clear that the lack of a stable jobs is a big risk factor contributing to reoffending and addiction relapse.  

Last week, at our local Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil, speakers shared their stories of struggling with the illness of addiction and now being in recovery. One of the speakers, whose background had included selling drugs to support his habit, discussed with obvious happiness his current “real job.” He is clearly an example of the pain of addiction, and the joy of being in recovery. Let us not forget he is also an example of workforce development at its best. We need more people like this if we want to grow our economy in central Kentucky. In fact, we now know we don’t have enough people to do it without them.

Kathy L. Miles is coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Inc.