Bill tackling addiction in the workplace advances

Opioid addiction Image via MGN Online

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Legislation to give Kentuckians in addiction recovery a pathway to maintain or return to employment narrowly advanced out of a Senate Committee Wednesday.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 173, would task the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Office of Drug Control Policy with developing educational resources for businesses who voluntarily implement employer-facilitated treatment programs for employees who fail drug screenings.

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Sen. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, said he introduced SB 173 to give people a second chance. It’s part of an overall shift among policymakers to address long-term recovery after Kentucky’s opioid epidemic ravaged communities across the commonwealth.

“This particular bill here … will be a great stepping stone to allowing individuals to beat drug addiction,” Castlen said while presenting the bill before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. “Employees in recovery experience fewer relapses, lower turnover rates and miss work less.”

Castlen said substance use disorders continue to weigh down labor force participation rates in Kentucky. He cited difficulties in finding qualified employees for his steel business, particularly with the unemployment rate hovering at historic lows. Iris Wilbur Glick of Greater Louisville Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce, echoed Castlen’s remarks when she testified in support of the legislation.

”SB 173 is an important first step in changing the culture and stigma in Kentucky by empowering employers with the tools to create a customized program that gives assurance and accountability when faced with addiction,” said Glick, adding that research on the most effective recovery strategies routinely illustrate a close connection between employment and recovery. “A job brings with it not only a source of income and health benefits but also a sense of purpose and dignity.”

Glick said SB 173 is similar to legislation that passed in Indiana two years ago.

Rob Mattingly of the Kentucky Justice Association testified that his group was supportive of the bill’s concept but was concerned about provisions in SB 173 that released employers of certain liabilities when employing people with substance use disorders.

Glick said the chamber’s stance was SB 173 would create a higher bar for liability claims but not shield employers from all legal actions.

“This bill, by no stretch of the imagination, provides blanket immunity,” Glick said. “At the end of the day, particularly under Kentucky’s current liability climate, if a person wants to file a suit against an employer, there is still an ability to do so.”

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said SB 173 may not be perfect, but he supported it because of the costs of illegal drug use to society. He said SB 173 was an example of the “global approach” to substance use disorders that Kentucky policymakers need to embrace.

SB 173 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at You can also follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.