Helping recovering addicts get back to work

Published 6:12 am Saturday, May 12, 2018

Substance abuse is the public health crisis of this generation. It’s claiming lives in Kentucky and across the nation at an unprecedented rate. Like nearly half of all Americans, you or your family probably know someone whose life has been torn apart because of drug addiction.

But as a leader in Kentucky’s business community recently noted, this problem isn’t only devastating families and communities. It’s also a workforce emergency. That’s why, after close consultation with constituents, officials with local substance abuse treatment centers, and Kentucky business groups, I introduced the “Comprehensive Addiction Recovery through Effective Employment and Reentry (CAREER) Act” to address this important and often overlooked aspect of the opioid epidemic.

One study estimated that nearly one million prime-age workers were absent from the labor force due to opioids in 2015 alone. The human toll on those non-working Americans is heavy, as is the economic cost for communities across the country. A different study found that opioid abuse cost Kentucky more than $10 billion that same year.

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More than just a path to gain financial security, reliable employment has tangible benefits ranging from personal happiness to physical health. The structure and stability that comes with a job is an important way to prevent a recovering addict from relapsing. When individuals maintain steady work, they also strengthen families and contribute to society.

It’s clear the scourge of substance abuse requires a comprehensive response – one that not only helps prevent and treat addiction, but also supports long-term recovery.

My bill, the “CAREER Act,” will help connect recovering addicts with employers who are in need of qualified applicants to fill jobs. It would establish a five-year, state-based pilot program in the hardest-hit states, like Kentucky, to support programs that help recovering individuals get back to work and maintain long-term sobriety. It would also provide opportunities for those in recovery to access a stable place to live until they can secure permanent arrangements. With new flexibility to use federal resources for career services and training, states will also be empowered to assist individuals transitioning from treatment to the workforce.

By encouraging local businesses and treatment organizations to work together, men and women in recovery can get the help they need to find stable employment and a good place to live.

In short, my bill seeks to provide hope and support to those looking for a fresh start.

This crisis is multi-faceted, and I’ve been working with my colleagues in Congress to address it in numerous ways. In response to the heartbreaking effect of abuse on prenatal and infant children, I sponsored the “Protecting Our Infants Act,” which was signed into law in 2015. As the first law to address this aspect of the opioid epidemic, it challenged federal agencies to develop strategies to safeguard the most vulnerable victims of the crisis, our newborns. Last month, I also introduced the “Protecting Moms and Infants Act,” a new bill directing the federal agencies to implement those strategies with a focus on families.

Furthermore, the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced, in response to my request, its plans to add much-needed federal resources to Western Kentucky by opening a new field office in Paducah. This new office will help communities in the region combat the growing problem of opioid addiction and the recent spike in methamphetamine abuse.

I have also been proud to lead the passage of landmark, bipartisan legislation including the “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act,” and the “21st Century Cures Act.” Together, these two laws authorized significant new grant programs to help communities fight back and provided the necessary funding to boost their efforts.

Additionally, the recent government funding legislation I negotiated secured $4.6 billion to continue combating this pressing crisis. That’s the highest level of resources ever devoted to helping communities and saving lives from opioids.

The “CAREER Act” seeks to empower men and women to take the next step during their transition back into the workforce. Long-term recovery takes time, and the more we can equip individuals with the tools they need to return to their productive, healthy lives, the better their chances are of maintaining a drug-free lifestyle, reentering the workforce, and helping their communities thrive.

Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is the U.S. Senate Majority Leader.