“We don’t have a drug epidemic anymore, we have a recovery epidemic.” -North Country Serenity Center in Littleton, NH
2016 was a tipping point for the state of New Hampshire. And not in a good way.
According to the Portland Press Herald, nearly 500 people died from drug overdoses that year. And opioid overdose fatalities increased by a rate of 191 percent over the previous five years.
Today New Hampshire tops the list of US states with drug overdose deaths at number 2 behind West Virginia.
Substance Use Disorder In New Hampshire
There are a lot of reasons for that.
According to US News & World Report, the state’s lack of treatment funding, it’s rural context, and also NH’s high prescription rates all contribute to the regional opioid epidemic.
Our headquarters is located in New Hampshire’s rural and mountainous North Country. And for all the reasons listed above, substance use disorders are prevalent in our area.
This is why, in late 2019, DCI joined the Governor’s Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative (RFW).
What is the RFW program and why is it so important?
The Governor’s Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative
The initiative promotes individual wellness for New Hampshire residents by empowering workplaces like DCI to provide support for people recovering from substance use disorder.
The RFW Initiative also gives businesses like ours resources to nurture a caring environment that inspires the success of our employees in recovery.
Programs like RFW are vitally important for the state and business communities.
According to the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, substance use costs New Hampshire $2 billion annually in lost worker productivity and earnings, healthcare costs, public safety and criminal justice expenses.
And yet, more than 100,000 people need treatment for substance use disorder in New Hampshire while only four to six percent receive that treatment.
Becoming A Recovery Friendly Workplace
Our journey to becoming a designated RFW began a little over a year ago.
It all started one day last year when Jane, a machine operator in our factory, came into DCI’s HR office asking for help.
Jane had been sober for five years, but now she was relapsing and using again. The initial signs of Jane’s relapse manifested in attendance issues. Then it escalated as she suffered withdrawal symptoms at work.
Jane was a single mother, and up until now she was trying to manage the relapse on her own. That’s more common than you might imagine.
Recovery Answers expands on the unique challenges faced by women with substance use disorders:
The shame, blame, and guilt attached to addiction can be stronger for women, especially mothers. Women report higher levels of stigma than men, and stigma is a known barrier to treatment seeking.
So on that day, when Jane came to the HR office in desperation, she said that she needed help with her substance use disorder.
In a moment like this, our HR manager’s priority is to ensure employees in this kind of situation are safe. Our job is to provide Jane with support.
Right away our HR Manager started calling around in an effort to discover what resources were available to Jane. And in the end, we connected with her personal counselor.
This individual previously helped her navigate her addiction issues, and he helped right away to get Jane into a rehabilitation program.
A Challenging Journey
We were obliged to terminate Jane’s employment with the caveat that if she finished her 30-day rehabilitation program, we would restore her employment.
However, at the same time, Child Services took away Jane’s daughter. She temporarily lost custody.
Thankfully, she finished the rehab program. And as promised, we gave Jane her job back.
Our HR manager stayed in touch with her doctor because we require a pre-employment physical—employees are working with big machines. He confirmed that she was safe to come back to work and that she was participating in his outpatient program called The Doorway in Littleton, NH.
Once she finished the rehab program, Jane had to attend classes for several weeks including scheduled doctor and counseling visits. To accommodate this, we set her up with a schedule to work night shifts. This allowed her to prioritize all her recovery program obligations.
One of those programs was a sober parenting program. Jane worked hard in all these programs and in her employment at DCI.
Consequently, she qualified to regain custody of her daughter. In fact, our HR manager went to court with Jane and testified to the judge on her behalf that she was a stable and dependable employee successfully managing her time and her sobriety.
Jane still works for us now. Almost a year sober.
Today, Jane continues to make us aware of when she feels challenged. And we provide her with constructive feedback on how she can improve her work performance, just like any other DCI employee.
Recovery Takes A Community
I believe Jane’s recovery story is one of success because she had so much support. A lot of people struggle with getting that kind of support because of the shame and stigma attached with addiction and recovery.
Thankfully, we learned about the RFW Initiative in the process of supporting Jane.
We first discovered RFW through Greg Williams from the North Country Health Consortium. He told us how becoming a designated RFW would mobilize an array of resources once we joined the program and declared ourselves a RFW.
Since we initiated the RFW program at DCI, other employees have come forward looking for support. And that has led to great changes in our organization.
For example, we recently accepted a grant from HeadRest—a charity that helps those with substance use disorder—to have a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (LADAC) at our facility once a week.
The LADAC support started in February 2020 and the grant runs through October. Once the grant is exhausted, we’ll evaluate whether to continue with LADAC services based on its efficacy as a positive workforce initiative.
In the process of becoming designated a RFW, our HR team has taken multiple trainings in how to eliminate the workplace stigma associated with addiction and to increase awareness of recovery resources.
It’s just the beginning, but we have high hopes that the RFW Initiative will lead to even more positive changes in our business. Changes that will support our employees and, in the end, help us become the best employer we can be.