Although it is not something many people realize, drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace is quite prevalent. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports 70 percent of the 14.8 million Americans who abuse drugs are employed. Additionally, 24 percent of workers admit drinking during the day at least once in the past year.

Given the high percentage of employees struggling with drug or alcohol related issues, employers should have a stake in ensuring employees have access to treatment options. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrative replacing an employee costs 25 percent to almost 200 percent of annual compensation - excluding loss of institutional knowledge, productivity, absenteeism and company morale. Ultimately, treatment for employees, with the goal of life-long recovery, should be a top priority for Hoosier businesses.

As many employers have changed insurance companies and coverage plans in the New Year it’s important to understand what options are available to employees in terms of drug and alcohol treatment plans. Businesses need to reach out to those of us in the substance-use disorder field to learn how to help employers navigate the various health insurance programs and to serve as advocates for employees who struggle with addiction. As a partner with employers, treatment centers are focused on helping employers get their employees back with the goal of a healthier and more productive workplace.

Employers can proactively and successfully help employees with substance abuse problems get the help they need by keeping these simple steps in mind:

  • Treat the problem as an employee/HR support issue rather than a strict disciplinary issue and reduce any negative stigma of addiction in the workplace.
  • Educate employees of their benefits, company wellness programs and employee assistance programs (EAPs) that can help with substance-use treatment.
  • Offer support and refer employees to appropriate treatment facilities and programs.
  • Provide employees with a comprehensive health plan that supports a broad range of services and support.

Demand more from your health insurance company and serve as an advocate for your employees by demanding benefits that include mental health and addiction treatment services.

We cannot ignore the fact that Indiana’s drug crisis impacts Hoosier businesses – and that Hoosier businesses can be a part of the solution to Indiana’s addiction issues. Employees who exit the workforce due to untreated, or undertreated, addictions do have options to get help. Together we can educate and empower Hoosier employees to get the support and access to treatment needed so they can continue to work, thrive and survive – for themselves, their families and for our economy. There is hope. Recovery is possible.

Barbara Elliott is president and chief executive officer of Fairbanks.