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State of Addiction: Substance abuse costs U.S. employers hundreds of billions in health care, productivity losses

Drug testing and Employee Assistance Programs are two ways employers help their workers cope with the devastating issue. Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. implemented a companywide program called “Your Life Matters” to help its employees cope with drug and alcohol abuse.
by Jennifer Palmer Published: March 13, 2012

“We wanted our employees to know it's OK to get help,” said Lorrie Jacobs, Chesapeake's vice president of compensation and benefits.

Through a partnership with its EAP provider, the energy company developed a free program for Chesapeake employees and their families. It signed up celebrities such as retired NBA player Desmond Mason, actor Rob Lowe and Dr. Drew Pinsky to volunteer to star in informational videos and headline events attended by employees.

“A lot of employees started to talk about the family members in their life. When we talk about cost, we often assume the employee is the drug addict,” adds Colleen Dame, Chesapeake's director of wellness. “But we also need to think about family members — they miss work or are distracted at work because of all the chaos going on (at home).”

The program has been well-received. In 2011, there were more than 1,700 phone calls to the EAP. A webpage dedicated to the “Your Life Matters” program received 16,000 hits. (Chesapeake has more than 12,000 employees.)

Offering employees the help they need to cope with drug abuse reduces their time away from work and keeps them more focused on their job, Jacobs said.

Agencies point to Chesapeake's program as an example of a successful workplace program, but it's clear employers could use additional resources to come up with their own programs.

An Oklahoma Governor's and Attorney General's Blue Ribbon Task Force in 2005 recommended that the state Labor Department develop comprehensive educational and training programs addressing mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence issues in the workplace, including certification awards for employers who offered the training and EAPs.

When contacted last month, Labor Department spokeswoman Liz McNeill said the department was not aware of the recommendation, and training programs weren't created. McNeill said the recommendation was made under the administration of former Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau, who didn't make division directors aware of them.

by Jennifer Palmer
Investigative Reporter
Jennifer Palmer joined The Oklahoman staff in 2008 and, after five years on the business desk, is now digging deeper through investigative work. She's been recognized with awards in public service reporting and personal column writing. Prior to...
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