episode 144 | Transcript | Opioid Epidemic | HR | Rea CPA

episode 144 – transcript

Dave Cain:  Welcome to unsuitable on Rea Radio, the award-winning financial services and business advisory podcast that challenges your old school business practices and/or traditional business suit culture. Our guests are industry professionals and experts who will challenge you to think beyond the suit and tie, while offering you meaningful modern solutions to help enhance your company’s growth. I’m your host, Dave Cain. Opioid use has drastically increased in recent years and its impact is felt on families, and communities, and on the economy.

Dave:   While it may be easy to stereotype what an addict looks like, the truth is, if you really want to know what an addict looks like, all you have to do is look around you. Opioids don’t discriminate. They’re a white collar problem. They’re a blue collar problem. They target the homeless. They ravage the rich, the business owners, all professions. They cripple the middle class. Addicts are our neighbors, our friends, our family, and our colleagues. Today, Renee West, Rea’s Human Resource Manager, joins us to talk about Ohio’s opioid epidemic. She will also talk about what employers can do to help combat this growing problem in our workforce. Welcome back to unsuitable, Renee.

Renee West:    Thank you very much. I’m very glad to be here.

Dave:   Well, and such an interesting topic that’s got a grip on the workplace.

Renee:     Yes, that’s very true. Anyone that is watching the news is aware that this is a very important topic, as you mentioned, that not only affects employers, but us as individuals and families as well.

Dave: I think before we begin, maybe throw out a little disclaimer that neither one of us are experts in this area. We’re not medical professionals. We’ve studied this. All we want to do today is kind of talk about the impact it has on our workforce and our client’s workforce.

Renee:   Thank you. Yes, that is very accurate. We will also be sharing some resources at the end of our discussion for employers that wish to reach out and obtain further information.

Dave:    A note to our listeners, again, thanks for listening. Like you, this is an uneasy conversation that we’re having here today and probably an uneasy conversation that our listeners have in their workplace. We’re certainly uneducated and we want to do everything we can to get a little more educated in this topic.

Renee:    Very true, very true.

Dave:  Let’s start out with maybe some definitions or some statistics of what an opioid is.

Renee:   Yes, thank you. There’s two different pieces of this. If we look at the prescription opioids, those include methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, that are usually subscribed for pain if individuals go into hospitals or doctors. The second piece of that are the non-prescription opioids, and those include heroin and fentanyl, which are the top two that you’re hearing a lot about in the news in reference to heroin overdoses throughout the United States.

Dave:   I want to kind of go back a little bit as in … Again, thanks for that definition. But, as the Human Resource Director of a top 100 CPA firm with 13 locations and over 300 employees with numerous family members attached to those 300 employees, am I naïve? Could we have an opioid problem within our firm?

Renee:   As far as employers, everyone is open to having these issues. It’s something that we might want to not think about, but it’s out there. As you mentioned, our employees have families, and functions that they go to, and people that they are around on a daily basis. Either it’s someone that we might know, someone within our family, so it is affecting us in some way.

Dave:   Throughout Rea & Associates, I think we would be naïve is we didn’t realize that there is a problem somewhere in the chain. Like I said, friend, colleague, family member.

Renee:   Right, yes.

Dave:    Again, it’s impacting all of us. This is not something we just read about in the news, or-

Renee:  That is correct.

Dave:      Read about on our phones. It’s here.

Renee:    Right, right.

Dave:  Let’s talk about how does opioid epidemic affecting employers. You rub elbows with a lot of HR professionals around the country, this has to be a topic of discussion. What impact is it having on employers?

Renee:  Great question. Yes, there definitely is an impact not only within the state of Ohio, but on a national level. If you are looking at, of course, HR professionals are recruiting and continuing to hire for their organizations. A lot of these companies are conducting preemployment drug screenings for their potential hires. You’re seeing a large number of these candidates that are not passing these drug screenings and are ineligible to be hired.

Renee:  You’re looking at already a tight labor market and when you do have, as an HR professional, you have that candidate that you feel is the one, and they might be the one that falls in that area of not passing the drug screens. It’s very frustrating from an employer’s standpoint when you’re trying to find key talent and sometimes they don’t pass that drug screen. That’s a very big concern and it’s one that continues to increase, not only in the small areas, but large areas. Again, as you mentioned, it’s not in one particular city. It’s in large cities, small cities. It’s everywhere.

Dave:    I want to share with you kind of a real-life story that occurred several weeks ago in a discussion with a client. Again, this is in regards to the tight labor market. They were having very much difficulty getting talent, getting employees, primarily because they could not pass a drug test. This was a manufacturer that obviously there was machinery and chemistry going on within the walls of this manufacturing plant, and there was a discussion on the table about relaxing or not requiring drug testing, just because they needed the labor.

Renee:   Right.

Dave:    Do you see that happening?

Renee: Yes, definitely. That, unfortunately, it also brings up a safety issue and a safety concern. If you’re looking at any type of employer, those that are in manufacturing that have individuals that are working on machinery, individuals that are on forklifts, you have drivers. If you have an impaired employee in the workplace who might be on a prescription drug and abusing that, and they have a forklift accident where they hit another employee and there’s a casualty, the legality or the legal issues that that company faces will more than likely close that business because of the impact of they knew that that employee could’ve been under the influence.

Dave:   Sure.

Renee: The safety is a big concern, not only just for manufacturing, but for any type of facility, because you’re lowering that standard and opening up others in your organization to potential harm.

Dave:  The conclusion of the story that we just talked about is the culture of that company was so great that they not only decided to maintain the drug testing, they decided to increase the drug testing. They went to their current employees, explained the problem, and they actually ended up paying some bonuses, some performance bonuses for employees who had to work overtime because of the labor shortage.

Renee:  Right. That’s great to hear that they were able to take that issue and turn it around into something that was positive for those employees that were able to help, but then they’re also concerned that they’re not lowering that safety standard either, and that’s a big piece.

Dave:  You bring up a good point. Safety standard, no matter what the profession is, is big and the drug addiction would have an impact on safety no matter what the profession is.

Renee: That is 100% accurate, yes, yes.

Dave: Again, the example we used about drug testing was in the case where hiring new employees. What about current employees? Sometimes they escape the testing or seem normal during the work hours, but there’s still an issue there.

Renee:  Right. Definitely, that’s a demographic that almost every employer has. One of the resources, as an HR professional, that we always want to ensure is offering our employees assistance. If there was something that an employee had an issue with, we, of course, would want to offer assistance. Many companies have their employee assistance programs that can offer some form of counseling or substance abuse for their employees. Being able to, number one, know your workforce and know who maybe those individuals are at risk of having these issues, and be able to offer them assistance, and keep them employed, but also give them help as well. The EAP programs are continuing to elevate the services that they offer, knowing that this is a national crisis, and are able to work with employers to function and structure those programs to be most effective for their needs.

Dave:   You used the term, health crisis, and I believe we do have a health crisis. We may not realize it at all levels, but in our discussions pre-production, you brought a lot of statistics to my attention that I was not aware of, and it is a health crisis.

Renee: It is. If you look at just … The Center for Disease Control has a lot of resources out there that provide a lot of statistics, but if you’re looking at the average day in the United States, around 46 people die every day from some form of overdosed or prescription item.

Dave:   Can I have that number again? That was-

Renee:  46 people die every day. Those are the deaths that we’re aware of. You also have to keep in mind there are probably other deaths where people unfortunately are unaccounted for and that’s a big piece of that continuing growth of that epidemic. Back to the workplace that we were talking about before, there are statistics that show that drugs in the workplace actually result in $200 billion of lost production each year. That’s a huge amount and only continues to escalate each year.

Dave: You mentioned the lost production and let’s throw in there the cost of the health insurance, the medical cost, the assistance programs that maybe aren’t included in that number, that are escalating.

Renee:   That is very true. The healthcare cost and the renewals that companies are seeing are continuing to increase because of that additional, as you mentioned, cost associated with the EAP programs. Cost for employees going, or individuals going into a hospital to seek treatment, overdose prescription items that are just way out of control right now. The healthcare system is seeing that affect and unfortunately have to pass that increase onto employers who eventually pass it on to employees, unfortunately.

Dave: It’s getting harder and harder to pass those kind of costs onto the consumer.

Renee:   Definitely, definitely. Right now, there is some legislation that has come forward as of June 22nd of … Actually, I’m sorry, June 26th. There’s a House of Representatives Bill 6 that is the Patients and Communities Act, that actually passed the House of Representatives, that is a number of different items relating to the crisis with the opioids. We’ll provide information on our website here later that will actually take individuals directly to the website that talks about this. But this is a bill that is gaining momentum that will be next taken to the Senate and is seeing … We’re hearing that the probability of this moving onto the President is very high. This is something that will continue to pass additional expense onto employers through the insurance programs.

Dave:   Occasionally on this program we like to dip into politics, or whatever, and you brought up some issues in Congress. In your opinion, your humble opinion, is this going to be a bipartisan issue in this situation?

Renee:No. What we’re hearing is no matter what the party affiliation, this is a national crisis, and it is something that is going to need to have everyone’s attention no matter what type of party that you’re from. There’s a lot of … As you know, there always might be a few that are in there, but the President is definitely supporting the funding of these programs and knows the impact that it’s having on employees and people within the United States.

Dave:   I suppose you remember the good ole’ days in the HR world where you had to worry about evaluations, evaluations of the employee, and the 360 stuff, and all of those things. Now you have one more thing on your plate.

Renee:  We do, we do. HR is never a dull profession, but there are a lot of things that we need to be sure that we keep up on and share, like we are today, as these things are important for everyone to know.

Dave:  When we talked yesterday in advance, we both were a little bit uneasy with this conservation, and I think that’s maybe a start that these conversations have to be had in the boardroom, at staff meetings. It’s a form of education. We have to become more and more educated.

Renee:  It is. That’s very true. It’s so important that, if you look back 10-15 years, the thought of heroin and those type of drugs were of a demographic of homeless people, or individuals that didn’t go to high school, or all different stigmas associated with it. Now, there’s no individual that can be away from this, that everybody can be affected. That’s what’s different now and we can’t bury our heads anymore. This is affecting our children. It’s affecting schools. It’s affecting everyone.

Dave:   In the communities that Rea operates in, are you aware of any programs where if there are prescript drugs in the home, how can you dispose of that? Do you know of any programs in our communities?

Renee:             Yes. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce, but a number of different communities will have what they call, buyback days, or drop off days with the Sheriff’s office, where if individuals have prescriptions that they have extra of, there are ways to dispense of that. We’ll also share that resource on our website as well. But there are avenues to be able to help with that.

Dave:  Certainly, conversations with your family physician are always important in this area.

Renee: Definitely.

Dave:  Again, a form of education. You had mentioned you have two high school age children. Is this something you guys talk about at the dinner table, or is this topic off limits?

Renee: No, we talk about this all the time. I continue to be amazed each day of what our children are exposed to and what they are able to get if they want it. In our household, we’ve talked about the importance of us talking and sharing resources and helping our children to know how to make right decisions, but also how to be safe when they are in school, or they’re out at an activity, or they’re at a sporting event. But this is something that is affecting our children. When you have a daughter that can tell you that she can go anywhere and find any type of drug, it’s very scary. It absolutely is terrifying.

Renee:  As a parent, it’s something that my husband and I are both very passionate about being sure that our kids know that they have a resource if they come into a situation. We want to share those resources and those resources are out there in all communities. A lot of the communities are starting programs within the high schools to help students to make appropriate decisions in relationship to these types of issues. There’s a lot of resources for employers and employees that they can take advantage of.

Dave: Sure. Again, I think that was a fantastic example and I’m proud that you were able to share that. Those aren’t easy conversations to share with someone outside the dining room table.

Renee:  Right.

Dave: But that has to occur. I think that’s maybe one of the areas we have to do better. Like I mentioned, I think that also could occur at the business level.

Renee:   Definitely, definitely.

Dave: Again, I want to go back to what can the employers do. It’s certainly affecting the bottom line, probably morale. What else are you seeing that can be done at the business level?

Renee: Sure. That’s a great question. One of the questions that we receive a lot, just from the colleagues that I work with, is as an employer, what can we do when we’re hiring if we have an individual that we want to hire that we know is maybe a recovering addict? What are our legal obligations? Again, we’re not lawyers. But, what’s a best practice for us to do? We always want to let individuals know that a current illegal drug user is not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Renee: However, if you have an employee that is a recovering addict, they are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are different regulations that if you have an employee that you’re working with and you want to help them, being able to show that there’s that employee assistance program, if others in the company see that there’s an employee that’s struggling and the company’s taking time to help them, that can help with morale as well. But it’s definitely important to know as an employer what your rights are and what the candidate’s rights are too as they’re coming into the workplace.

Dave: Good point. I mean, there’s some legal issues that we bump up against and it’s not as simple as, this is maybe … Maybe it’s not three strikes and you’re out. Could it be one strike and you’re out? It all depends on the circumstances surrounding that particular case.

Renee: Right.

Dave:  What is being done, preventative measures, within the state of Ohio? Rea & Associates practices throughout the state of Ohio and I certainly think that it’s important to talk about what’s going on within the borders of Ohio.

Renee: Sure. One of the main things, as I mentioned, a lot of funding is going into programs to go into the schools to help the young individuals be able to make good decisions and be aware of these issues that are out there. That’s a very big piece and that’s nationwide where you’re seeing them going into the schools and actually having conversations, actually showing them, what these drugs look like, and what they can be mirrored as, as a safety precaution. That’s a big piece of what we’re seeing from a statewide level. Also, if you’re looking at the local taskforce that you have in any community, there’s been extensive training for each of them as to how to spot these issues, how to know how to handle a person that might be going through an overdose. What is happening? I’m sure everyone has heard of the Narcan and the ability to help an individual that’s going through an overdose. That’s been a big piece of a new part of the helping in that.

Dave:  Some training-

Renee: Yes. That’s a very big piece, because those first responders are those key individuals that are helping those that are in these situations.

Dave: We do a lot of mentoring and coaching within Rea & Associates. What’s my responsibility if I’m mentoring and find out a situation where there may be some addiction? Obviously, there’s some confidentiality, but what is my fiduciary responsibility?

Renee: Good question. That’s always a very touchy situation to be in.

Dave:  Call you?

Renee:  Call your HR is always what we say. Always get the Human Resource Department involved. Let the employee know that they’re a resource and the Human Resource individual will be able to followup with them and if there is that EAP program, be able to set in motion the next steps of what they need to do. A lot of it falls back on the employee as well. An employer can only do so much as to be able to say, “Here’s the resources to help you.” They’re responsible for following through and EAP programs will work with employers to, number one, keep things that need to be confidential, confidential, but also share with you if a person is falling outside of those expectations to know if there’s been improvement too.

Dave:    As a practicing CPA that talks to a lot of businesses, obviously we talk about the balance sheet, the income statement, hiring and talent. Is this another thing that we need to talk about with our clients very openly?

Renee: Yes, very much so. Also, being able to offer those resources, or answer those questions that come up. We are a resource to help with that as well, but there are extensive resources in any community and if you’re finding something where you’re not having an answer to, there are some different places that we can always recommend.

Dave:   Right. Our guest today has been Renee West, Human Resource Manager for Rea & Associates, and she practices out of New Philadelphia, Ohio. But she is around the state of Ohio, so you may see her in one of our offices any time soon. Thanks for joining us today, Renee, and thank you for having the courage to talk about such a very sensitive topic. Listeners, again, thanks for tuning in and if you’d like to learn more about this topic, check out the show notes from today’s episode at ReaCPA.com/podcast. We’d also like to know if you enjoyed this episode. Like it, comment on it, or share it, and don’t forget to check out the videos of our podcast on YouTube. Until next time, I’m Dave Cain encouraging you to loosen up your tie and think outside the box.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on unsuitable on Rea Radio are our own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rea & Associates. The podcast is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the professional advice you would receive elsewhere. Consult with a trusted advisor about your unique situation so they can expertly guide you to the best solution for your specific circumstance.