BWC pilot program addresses opioid impact on workforce

$5 million program launches Oct. 15 in Montgomery, Ross and Scioto counties

From the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation

COLUMBUS — Striving to improve the health and safety of Ohio’s workforce, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) will launch a pilot program in October to support employers willing to hire workers struggling to overcome an addiction to opioids and other dangerous substances.

BWC’s Opioid Workplace Safety Program will provide up to $5 million over two years to help employers in Montgomery, Ross and Scioto counties hire, manage and retain workers in recovery.

“Many employers are struggling to fill jobs because otherwise qualified applicants have a history of substance abuse or addiction,” said Dr. Terry Welsh, BWC’s chief medical officer. “We also know that folks in recovery have a better chance staying sober if they have a job. What we want to do is give employers resources to help them better manage these workers so everyone wins — businesses boost productivity without compromising safety, and workers have a greater chance of a successful recovery.”

BWC will partner with county Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health boards to coordinate the pilot program. The boards will identify eligible employers and employees, disperse funding and measure results. BWC will cover the following:

  • Reimbursement for pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion drug testing;
  • Training for managers/supervisors to help them better manage a workforce that includes individuals in recovery;
  • A forum/venue for “second-chance” employers to share success stories that will encourage others to hire workers in recovery

Under the program, BWC will allot a lump sum to each ADAMH board on a quarterly basis. Employers must pay for expenses up front and apply to the boards for reimbursement.

Program details are still under development, with changes likely as the pilot progresses. The pilot’s launch is scheduled for Oct. 15.

Montgomery County had 521 accidental overdose deaths in 2017, giving it the state’s highest overdose death rate for the second year in a row, according to preliminary data from the Ohio Department of Health. Ross and Scioto are routinely among the hardest-hit counties as well, though Ross fell out of the top 10 last year to 41st place.

National data shows the opioid crisis has lowered the labor force participation rate. In Ohio, opioid addiction, abuse and overdose deaths cost the state anywhere from $6.6 billion to $8.8 billion annually, according to a 2017 report from the C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University.

BWC’s latest program demonstrates the agency’s continued commitment to mitigate the opioid epidemic’s impact on Ohio’s workforce.

Since 2011, the agency has overhauled its pharmacy program to better monitor and reduce dependence on opioids and other dangerous drugs within its injured-worker population. Its Opioid Rule in 2016 created several safeguards, including holding prescribers accountable if they don’t follow best practices. As a result of these efforts, the agency has seen opioid dependence in its injured-worker population drop 59 percent, from 8,029 workers in 2011 to 3,315 as of July 31, 2017.