Addiction and the Bottom Line

February 2016

Kevin Kirby, CEO and Founder

Financial sustainability is a hot topic in the recovery organization world. Most if not all recovery community organizations (RCOs) are highly dependent on public sector funding. This has left them vulnerable to budget cuts, shifting priorities, and broader economic downturns.

As a result of this unpredictability, RCOs are often forced to focus on the short term, with little opportunity to plan and execute long-term strategy or invest in innovations.

Our experience with Face It TOGETHER Sioux Falls has been driven by a business orientation and a belief that we could harness the forces of the market to transform how our community deals with drug and alcohol addiction.

When I travel around the country to talk about our model, I often refer to Face It TOGETHER Sioux Falls as an RCO on steroids. The biggest differentiator from a typical RCO is our sustainable business model, with our Workplace Initiative at the foundation.

Unfortunately, employers have historically been ignored or perceived as adversaries by many in the traditional recovery movement. (See related article by Paul Roman from the Fall 2014 issue of The Bridge: Learning from Past Experiences: EAP Lessons for SBIRT.) But because employers and the private sector bear some of the greatest costs when it comes to addiction, they're also positioned to effect the greatest change.

About 70 percent of those with addiction issues are employed. Most hide their disease due to stigma, shame, and fear of consequences at work, driving tremendous costs in the workplace:
  • In 2010, excessive drinking cost the U.S. $249 billion, mostly due to reduced productivity, crime, and the cost of treating related health problems. 
  • On average, untreated addiction in the workplace costs employers $1,700 per employee per year. 
  • Addiction problems cost business 500 million workdays annually. 
  • People with an alcohol problem use twice as much sick leave and are five times more likely to file workers' compensation claims.
  • Health care costs for employees with addiction problems are twice those for other employees.
  • Individuals with addiction problems are far more likely to have worked for three or more employers in the previous year. 
We go to employers with a powerful value proposition: we help them address one of their most pressing and costly workforce issues. We work with employers to get their employees and family members well, leading to stronger employee engagement and productivity, and reduced attrition and operational costs. 

In exchange for this value, employers provide a financial investment to support the broader operations of Face It TOGETHER Sioux Falls, which includes activities such as peer recovery coaching, advocacy, and public education. 

Our focus is culture change. We help employers integrate addiction into their chronic disease management or wellness programs. The goal is to remove stigma and other barriers, educate, and provide support and navigation to resources so employees can get well. 

The program is customized for each employer, and we provide all the support and tools needed for implementation. Key elements include workplace education, training and HR support, peer coaching, and a robust commitment to proving outcomes. Each program is evaluated and driven by jointly developed metrics. 

An example of the initiative in action is with Raven Industries, a publicly held technology company based in Sioux Falls. Over the past three years, we’ve worked with Raven to hold a series of company-wide employee training sessions, leading more than 40 employees to come forward for help. During that period, Raven invested $30,000 in Face It TOGETHER Sioux Falls. We estimated a nearly $500,000 savings for Raven if our efforts kept only 6 of those employees from leaving the company.

The Workplace Initiative is a key reason we have existing RCOs around the country calling to learn more about our model and the process of affiliation. We expect to establish Face It TOGETHER affiliates in at least seven more communities this year. 

People suffering from addiction spend about one third of their lives at work. As we tell the employers we work with, solving addiction will not only get people well, it is good for business. And it’s also good for our communities. Real and meaningful solutions to addiction will only come when we face these challenges together.

Kevin Kirby is a long-term addiction survivor and successful business executive, using his skills and experience to help transform what communities think and do about the disease of drug and alcohol addiction.

Read Kevin's earlier contribution to the ATTC/NIATx Service Improvement blog:

Does your organization work with employers to help employees connect to addiction treatment services?  Share your story in the comments section below. 

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