Kentucky business leaders call for shift in approach applicants recovering from drug abuse

Published: Jun. 26, 2019 at 6:14 PM EDT
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The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce held a summit that was the first of its kind in the state. The summit focused on helping businesses in the state better understand how to appropriately handle and hire those in recovery from a substance abuse disorder.

The chamber expected 70 businesses to show, but 270 ended up coming to the event Monday in Lexington.

"We have one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the country, which means that on any given day we have about 150,000 people that could be working but are not." Beth Davisson with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Workforce Center said.

Davisson said the reason so many don't work is either they're locked up on drug charges or still actively using drugs.

“You can’t do economic development without workforce development,” Davisson said.

For the past couple of years, WKYT has profiled southern Kentucky’s struggle to get people to work, the lengths area development districts have gone to, and the lack of interest from potential employees who would rather get government assistance than a job.

"Workforce is the number one situation that businesses look at that are thinking about coming to a state." And so far, Davisson said, the jobs are still pouring into the state with 53,000 new jobs since 2015.

But to keep them here, Davisson said, the Chamber of Commerce has a responsibility to change the way businesses look at people in recovery.

"Treatment is not the end goal, but getting back to work is," Davisson said. "We’ve built a culture for decades that says don't touch substance abuse disorder. Stay away from it, have a zero tolerance policy and turn a blind eye."

But that culture, she said, needs to be shifted because 87 percent of businesses across the country say they are being impacted by drug abuse.

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