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The growing opioid epidemic has reached crisis levels. Opioid pain relievers are now the most widely prescribed, and highly abused, prescription drug in the U.S. This disturbing trend has also been increasingly emerging in the workplace. According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 9.5 percent of full-time employed adults and 12 percent of part-time working adults are now substance-dependent. 
 
As HR professionals, you’re tasked with leading the charge when it comes to protecting the workplace from substance abuse. The education and training that comes along with these matters falls on the shoulders of HR. It’s not only important that you stay informed, but the same is true for supervisors and managers — those who have more frequent contact with employees.
 
Many of you have already been dealing with this issue, but if you haven’t, are you prepared for that responsibility? Consider these questions as a guideline:
  • What are the signs of substance abuse?
  • When and how do you confront these individuals?
  • How do you proceed in offering resources and support?
  • Are you aware of all the laws related to employee addiction?
  • Do you have a substance use policy in place and does it need updating?
 
Helping employees deal with drug and alcohol addiction isn’t just an issue of morality — it’s a legal one. “I think it is important for HR to know how substance abuse is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA),” says Brenda Powles, HR Manager, Wisconsin Technical College System. While there is nothing in the ADA or FMLA that prevents an employer from terminating an employee who has performance or attendance problems because of substance abuse, you should always have clear understanding of the laws or consult with legal counsel before taking any adverse action.
 
With this epidemic stretching to every corner of the state, there have been increased efforts to educate the general public. “Wisconsin has been working on the opioid crisis,” Powles adds. “They have this website with the Straight Forward initiative.” The website features a documentary titled Straight Forward: The Truth About Addiction that includes honest, in-depth interviews with young Wisconsinites fighting to recover their lives and futures from addictions. It’s a valuable resource to more fully understand addiction and the impact it has on users and those around them.
 
Wisconsin’s technical colleges can assist you in all aspects of training related to substance abuse issues. Their expert instructors will work with you on a customized training program for you and your staff. If you’re interested in becoming a substance abuse counselor the technical colleges can help you with that, too.
 
Substance abuse is a delicate issue for employees, and it can be a costly one for your organization. Because of the widespread scale of this epidemic, make sure your organization is fully prepared.
 
Wisconsin's 16 technical colleges serve every community in Wisconsin, providing learning opportunities close to home. The Wisconsin Technical College System offers more than 500 programs, awarding two-year associate degrees, one- and two-year technical diplomas, and short-term technical diplomas and certificates. The colleges also provide customized business solutions that help employers ensure a skilled incumbent workforce ready to improve processes or incorporate new technology. Visit www.wistechcolleges.org to explore all the benefits Wisconsin’s technical colleges have to offer.
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