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Bill tackling addiction in the workplace advances

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Legislation to give Kentuckians in addiction recovery a pathway to maintain or return to employment narrowly advanced out of a Senate Committee Wednesday.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 173, would task the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Office of Drug Control Policy with developing educational resources for businesses who voluntarily implement employer-facilitated treatment programs for employees who fail drug screenings.

Sen. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, said he introduced SB 173 to give people a second chance. It’s part of an overall shift among policymakers to address long-term recovery after Kentucky’s opioid epidemic ravaged communities across the commonwealth.

“This particular bill here … will be a great stepping stone to allowing individuals to beat drug addiction,” Castlen said while presenting the bill before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. “Employees in recovery experience fewer relapses, lower turnover rates and miss work less.”

Castlen said substance use disorders continue to weigh down labor force participation rates in Kentucky. He cited difficulties in finding qualified employees for his steel business, particularly with the unemployment rate hovering at historic lows. Iris Wilbur Glick of Greater Louisville Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce, echoed Castlen’s remarks when she testified in support of the legislation.

”SB 173 is an important first step in changing the culture and stigma in Kentucky by empowering employers with the tools to create a customized program that gives assurance and accountability when faced with addiction,” said Glick, adding that research on the most effective recovery strategies routinely illustrate a close connection between employment and recovery. “A job brings with it not only a source of income and health benefits but also a sense of purpose and dignity.”

Glick said SB 173 is similar to legislation that passed in Indiana two years ago.

Rob Mattingly of the Kentucky Justice Association testified that his group was supportive of the bill’s concept but was concerned about provisions in SB 173 that released employers of certain liabilities when employing people with substance use disorders.

Glick said the chamber’s stance was SB 173 would create a higher bar for liability claims but not shield employers from all legal actions.

“This bill, by no stretch of the imagination, provides blanket immunity,” Glick said. “At the end of the day, particularly under Kentucky’s current liability climate, if a person wants to file a suit against an employer, there is still an ability to do so.”

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said SB 173 may not be perfect, but he supported it because of the costs of illegal drug use to society. He said SB 173 was an example of the “global approach” to substance use disorders that Kentucky policymakers need to embrace.

SB 173 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.