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Ky. Leaders Back McConnell's Effort To Address Effect Of Opioids On Workforce

Kentucky employers and addiction treatment providers are throwing their weight behind Senator Mitch McConnell’s opioid bill introduced last week in the U.S. Senate.

Known as the CAREER Act, McConnell's bill would funnel millions of dollars into the state to help people with opioid addictions obtain jobs and safe housing.

McConnell took part in discussions about the opioid crisis in Louisville Monday.

Under the bill, 10 states with the highest rates of drug overdoses, which would include Kentucky, would get funding for five years starting in 2019. Scott Hesseltine, vice president of addiction services at addiction and mental health service provider Centerstone, said jobs and housing are common challenges for people finishing inpatient recovery programs.

“Treatment alone is not the solution," Hesseltine said. "What happens after treatment, and the CAREER Act, are essential. This is the next piece.”

In 2016, the five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose were West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2016 state report found that 34 percent of overdose deaths involved the use of heroin, up from 28 percent in 2015. Another opioid, fentanyl, was linked to 47 percent of all drug-related deaths, up from 34 percent in 2015.

McConnell's measure still has a long way to go – it would have to be attached to a larger opioid package Congress is working on – but if voted on as-is, funding would go toward:

  • Hiring substance abuse disorder specialists to assist in treatment, including medication-assisted treatment
  • Helping people transition from inpatient addiction treatment to jobs
  • Implementing innovative technologies to make substance use disorder treatment more affordable and accessible, which could include telemedicine
  • Outpatient peer support treatment program for use while people transition into employment
  • Money for housing for people recovering from addiction for up to two years

Jennifer Hancock, CEO of Volunteers of America, said there’s not enough affordable housing for people going through VOA’s treatment programs. This includes the Freedom House, which is for new moms in treatment.

“They’ve been reunited with their children who’ve often been in an out of home placements, they’ve just delivered a new baby, and now we’re looking for suitable housing for them that’s not drug infested, not exposing them to crime,” Hancock said. “So we’re delighted that it [the CAREER Act] affords treatment providers an opportunity to have housing paid for for a period of time.”

Kent Oyler, president of Greater Louisville Inc., said the hope is that some of the barriers to employment will be lowered. GLI represents 1,500 employers in Louisville.

“There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t hear about one of the effects of the opioid crisis on employment, particularly as it relates to the applicant pool that’s available for employers,” Oyler said.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.