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Kentucky Career Center - Cumberlands

Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center speakers at the Transformational Round Table meeting in Somerset, Kentucky.

Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center Employment Specialists Ashley McCarty (foreground) and Sonia Osman presented personal stories and highlights from the Kentucky Chamber's recent report "Opioid Abuse in Kentucky: The Business Community's Perspective."

A roundtable meeting of business leaders and owners, human resource professionals, judicial officials, and workforce personnel met on Friday, February 21, 2020, to discuss the issues, impact, and solutions to Kentucky's opioid crisis and its effect on the state's workforce.

Kentucky's business community has become acutely aware in recent years that the state's addiction epidemic is more than a public health issue. It has become a serious workforce issue, and employers are feeling its impact firsthand. As businesses struggle to find and retain workers, the opioid crisis is making the challenges even greater for HR leaders.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers that are available legally by prescription — oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and others. Although the National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time as prescribed by a physician, their abuse (such as being taken in larger quantities than prescribed or without a prescription) can lead to addiction, overdose incidents, and deaths.

The White House Council of Economic Advisors recently estimated the annual cost of the opioid crisis to the nation's economy at more than $500 billion — about 3% of the Gross National Product.

Kentucky opioid epidemic by the numbers:

  • In 2019, more than 1,300 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses — an average of more than three people each and every day.
  • Kentucky is a top ten state for opioid-related deaths.
  • The largest age demographic of overdose deaths in the state is 35-44.
  • Workers who abuse opioids miss an average of 29 days of work each year.
  • Between 21-29% of people misuse prescription opioids
  • 70% of Kentuckians believe that addiction is a disease

Employers looking for added support to navigate effective policies in the areas of hiring, treatment, recovery, and prevention to combat the addiction epidemic have a number of resources available. The Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center offers the Opioid Response Program for Business at no cost to employers. Their team can work with businesses to audit existing policies and make recommendations for the best practices for maintaining a drug-free workplace while supporting a recovery-friendly culture. For more information contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A new program expanding in the state is the Kentucky Employer Resource Network (ERN). The ERN model is an innovative approach to workforce development that has proven successful in a handful of states where the initiative has been deployed. James Vander Hulst of ERN USA presented an overview of the program and the advantages to employers and the communities that adopt this approach. The program boasts retention rates of up to 98 percent with participating employees, increased ROI as high as 600 percent, improved employee productivity and attendance, and more. For more information visit Kentucky ERN.

The Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center and the Strategic Initiative for Transformational Employment (SITE) established the event with support from Malone Hiring Solutions, the Employer Resource Network USA (ERN), Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, Kentucky Career Center, and the Somerset-Pulaski County Economic Development Authority (SPEDA).

SPEDA representative Chris Girdler at the Transformational Round Table meeting in Somerset Kentucky

Chris Girdler, President & CEO of SPEDA, welcomed participants and expressed his organization's support for the efforts being discussed at the roundtable session.

round table speaker James Vander Hulst

James Vander Hulst, Chief Disruptive Officer, USA ERN/President, Michigan ERN, presented an overview of the Kentucky Employer Resource Network. One of the keys he discussed with the program is the idea of a Workplace Success Coach and how this position helps to reduce life barriers for employees.


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