Creating Opportunity J.D. Harrison  | March 1, 2019

In Indiana, A Manufacturer Offers Help, Hope and Jobs to Opioid Victims

In a community where the manufacturing labor force has thinned in recent years, and in a state where the rate of opioid overdose deaths has increased 500 percent in the past two decades, John Stroup and his company faced an increasingly serious challenge: finding qualified, sober workers.

More than one in every ten applicants for jobs at Belden Inc.’s Richmond, Indiana factory were failing drug screenings, many of them due to opioid abuse, according to Stroup, the company’s CEO. As a result, important manufacturing jobs were lingering unfilled, hindering productivity and impeding the company’s ability to meet growing customer demand for its computer networking equipment.

“Opioid abuse has had devastating effects on families and communities across the U.S.,” Stroup wrote in materials submitted to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. He noted that 80 percent of Indiana employers have been affected by the opioid crisis, resulting in a $1.5 Billion blow to the state’s economy. Nationally, the epidemic costs more than $40 billion in lost productivity annually.

Companies like Belden and small towns like Richmond have been hit particularly hard, as the highest rates of opioid overdose have been concentrated in areas with high numbers of manufacturing jobs, according to a report published by the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation.

“We recognized a duty to our neighbors and a business need to take action,” Stroup says.

Rather than continuing to turn applicants away, Belden earlier this year launched the “Pathways to Employment” program, through which the company and its community partners now offer to pay for a personalized rehabilitation program for applicants denied work due to failed screenings, complete with recovery and employment coaches.

If an applicant completes the program and shows a commitment to maintaining a drug-free life, he or she earns a job at Belden’s Indiana factory, initially in a “safety conscious” role such as data input or inventory management. Once they pass additional drug screenings, they can transition into higher paying roles, but more safety critical roles like machine operator.

Having a job during the rehab and recovery program is game-changing motivation for participants, according to Robb Backmeyer, the chief operations officer at Centerstone Indiana, one of the two local treatment centers partnered with Belden on the Pathway to Employment program.

“A lot of times there’s no carrot during or at the end of treatment other than the fact that you’re in recovery,” Backmeyer said in an interview with CNN, noting that those who complete rehab programs often still face a stigma when searching for employment afterward. “But here there’s really the idea that there’s a job. Employment is really important to people, and it’s critical to their success,” he said.

Related: Learn more about America’s Opioid Crisis

Belden has estimated the average cost per second-chance applicant at around $16,000. While the program was initially designed solely for prospective candidates, some current workers have come forward in recent months to acknowledge they also have an addiction problem. Belden has since expanded the same treatment opportunity to all employees at the facility.

Stroup and his team are currently looking to expand the program to some of their other U.S. manufacturing facilities. Belden has been named a finalist for a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Award, and the company’s vice president for corporate communications, Paul Mottershead, spoke about the program at our event this week titled “The Business of Health” (video below).

“The Pathways to Employment program is a direct result of our corporate social responsibility commitment of ethical, legal and socially responsible business practices in its operations,” Stroup said. “As a business leader in the Richmond area, we feel a sense of duty to improve the community.”

Since launching the program in February, Belden has supported 23 participants. Fourteen have completed treatment, five of whom are currently working in safety conscious roles, while nine have already moved into machine-operation positions. Two participants are currently in assessment to determine appropriate and personalized treatment, and seven have dropped out of the program.

For the fourteen who have landed jobs through the initiative, the results have been life-changing.

“This program is fantastic as it gives those who have made mistakes a second chance,” one of the participants said. “It provides the support needed to become and remain successful.”

Another added: “This program has given me the chance to be back where I want to be.”

Learn more about the 2019 Corporate Citizenship Awards