Despite great strides in expanding addiction treatment options and services, Indiana finds itself amidst a still worsening opioid epidemic. Many people who are qualified to work in a position cannot do so because they cannot pass a drug test. In response, many employers have unfortunately stopped drug testing new employees altogether. I know companies can be in a crunch to fill empty positions, but this practice is too risky. To help address this two-pronged problem involving both our economy and the issue of substance abuse, legislation I authored addressing these issues was added to Senate Bill 224.

This proposal opens pathways for individuals who may not be able to re-enter the workforce without some assistance, and it gives more options to employers who are struggling to fill needed positions. Evidence shows individuals in substance abuse treatment programs that are employed are more successful than individuals who are unemployed. The potential of getting a good job may be the incentive needed to get applicants using drugs into a treatment program and striving for success.

Indiana University-Kokomo’s School of Business estimates substance use takes $1.5 billion from Indiana’s industry output annually. Nationally, employers report 25 percent of their job applicants fail a drug screening. These facts are startling considering the shortage of eligible workers plaguing our state economy.

By providing an avenue for an employer to assist an individual they would have hired, had they not failed a drug screen, we could help the potential employee with a job and allow them to complete a substance abuse treatment program. Additionally, it would be less costly to retain a trained employee with the skillset necessary for a particular job and provide them with treatment than to hire and train an entry-level employee. 

The Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction would provide guidelines for Employee Substance Abuse Programs to employers along with education, resources and referrals. These guidelines will help both employers and employee participants meet their obligations under the program.

By complying with these guidelines, the employer is provided immunity from liability for negligence in hiring an employee with a substance abuse disorder. During the treatment program, the employer may keep their new hire in a lower risk position. The employee would be hired on a probationary basis during their treatment and may be terminated at any time for lack of compliance or failure to perform their job duties.

With over a quarter of American job applicants failing drug tests last year, and the rate of opioid overdose deaths in Indiana having increased from 2015 to 2016 by 52 percent, this legislation would help address both societal problems. It offers flexibility for both the employee and employer, and outlines a pathway in which both can invest in treatment and recovery. With a portion of their paycheck invested this effort, this ensures participant employees have proverbial ‘skin in the game’ as they work to overcome their addiction and hold a full-time job.

It is essential that Hoosier communities realize drug addiction and employment are interrelated. As your representative, I am determined to tackle this epidemic on both the home front and in the workplace. But we will not stem the tide until we can offer those struggling with addiction a meaningful and rewarding alternative. Please contact me by email at [email protected] or by phone at (317) 232-9769 with any question or comments you have.