DDAA Conference Session: From Crisis to a Career


Kentucky leads the way in workforce development for substance-use patients

At the NADO-DDAA Annual Conference held in Virginia in March, state leaders discussed how they are combatting opioid addiction, abuse and overdose deaths in the Appalachian region. West Virginia’s Drug Free Moms and Babies Project provides integrated prevention and treatment support to pregnant women with substance use disorders. In Tennessee, First Tennessee Development District is building alliances between educators, clinicians, and community, church and faith leaders to solve the problem.

Kentucky approaches the opioid epidemic as an economic and workforce issue rather than a public health concern. In a 2017 report, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce found that the opioid epidemic and incarceration due to drug charges were leading factors in the state’s low workforce participation rate. Since then, it has focused on advancing policies that get people on the path to recovery and back into the workforce.

While there is evidence (for example, read this study published by NBER) supporting that unemployment is a contributing factor to increased demand for opioids, the impact of opioids on labor force participation is still emerging. According to research presented by Professor Michael Betz from the Ohio State University at the conference, the counties in Ohio that had lower labor participation rate in 2010, largely due to a decline in manufacturing employment, had higher overdose rates in 2015, suggesting a strong relationship between the local labor market conditions and the rise of opioid overdose deaths.

Speaking at the conference, Tim Robinson, CEO of Addiction Recovery Care in Kentucky, urged states to adopt a whole-person approach which starts with intervening with treatment, investing in someone’s economic future by providing access to transitional housing, vocational rehabilitation, workforce development, and inspiring them that there is hope to go from crisis to a career.

Mr. Robinson’s organization, Addiction Recovery Care, runs 30 treatment centers and treats 500 people in residential and 500 people in outpatient facilities across 12 counties in Kentucky. It has an internship program which guarantees a job to everyone who completes the treatment. Additionally, they have partnered with the Kentucky Workforce Board and with Sullivan University, expanding the internship into a 6-month career academy that lets candidates to earn certifications and college credits.
After starting the career academy, Mr. Robinson reported that the center saw a 30% increase in clients who chose to continue medical treatment beyond detox and residential care. More than 85% of their 6-month career academy graduates are sober, working full time, paying taxes and transitioning off public assistance. Recently, Addiction Recovery Care opened a new venture: Second Chance Auto Mechanics Shop in Louisa employs people who are in recovery, providing a second chance for patients to rebuild their career.

Written by Anuradha Dhar, Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (CREC)