The Marinette Menominee Area Chamber of Commerce joined forces with the Wisconsin Governor's Office, substance use prevention specialists, and business leaders to address the growing problem of heroin and other drug use in the workforce.
About the Collaboration
The opioid epidemic hit Wisconsin hard: Drug-related deaths nearly doubled between 2002 and 2010, with opioid-related overdoses the most frequent cause. Marinette, a Northeast city on Green Bay and home to shipbuilding and other industries, felt the effects of the epidemic in its diminished workforce.
“Businesses in Marinette, Wisconsin were growing,” says Jacqueline Boudreau, executive director of the Marinette Menominee Area Chamber of Commerce. “The region's manufacturing, health care, and customer services industries were all adding jobs—but employers were having a hard time finding and retaining employees. Businesses couldn’t hire or hold staff because of failed drug tests due to heroin, marijuana, and prescription drugs."
Marinette's problem was not unique to Wisconsin nor to other states: 70 percent of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed. Industry workers who use drugs are frequently unable to hold down long-term jobs—either because they stop coming to work or are fired for poor job performance.
In 2013, Boudreau raised the Marinette business community's growing problem with a visiting representative from Governor Scott Walker's office. That rep sat up and took notice, connecting Boudreau and her city's mayor with an official at the Wisconsin State Department of Health Services (DHS). He in turn put them in touch with the Governor's Workforce Development Group. A collaboration soon got underway.
An Anti-Opioid Task Force formed, supported in part by the state’s Substance Abuse Block Grant. The task force comprised representatives from state government, substance use prevention, health care, law enforcement, and business. Working in tandem with the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (SCAODA), the task force brought substance use prevention awareness and programming to businesses in Marinette, a block grant sub-recipient—educating not only employers but hard-to-reach youth, parents, and grandparents, as well.
A year and a half after the Chamber's task force formed, the Tri-City Area United Way took over their work, launching a new pilot program with leading industries in Marinette. Businesses are now lining up to bring substance use prevention education to their workforces.
Elements of Success
Connect with Change Makers
Collaboration can start with just one contact who has the passion and connections to put change in motion. "We had a visit from MaryAnn Lippert, who directs the Northern Region Office for the State of Wisconsin, Department of Administration," Boudreau recalls. Boudreau gave voice to the concerns of so many Chamber businesses about the toll substance use and misuse was taking on their workforces, their productivity, and ultimately, their bottom lines.
Lippert connected Boudreau and then Marinette Mayor Denise Ruleau to Louis Oppor of the DHS Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. "He found it very interesting that we were the first community that he heard express concern about the economic impact of substance abuse on business," Boudreau recalls. Oppor made introductions to the Governor's Workforce Development Group, putting change in motion.
The Anti-Opioid Task Force was born.
Show Businesses What's In It for Them
The Anti-Opioid Task Force worked with SCAODA to bring substance use prevention awareness to Marinette businesses. While most businesses welcomed the opportunity to address the problem, some were reluctant to take staff away from their jobs to attend presentations, fearing too much downtime. Others were unaware that workplace substance use was even a problem.
"We had to have the hard conversations [with business leaders]," says Annie Short, a substance abuse prevention specialist and SCAODA member when the Marinette collaboration formed.
The Task Force helped educate employers that by promoting prevention at work, businesses can cut down on absences and accidents, improve job performance, and create alliances with community prevention specialists and law enforcement, if needed.
To increase awareness, the Chamber engaged the help of local law enforcement to deliver presentations to employers and managers on the warning signs of workplace substance use and associated risks. Presenters explained, for example, that what might look like a gum wrapper tossed in the rest room is actually foil used to smoke heroin. They also shared with employers resources such as SAMHSA's free toolkit Making Your Workplace Drug-Free.3
“We explained to employers that the more they address drug use, the more likelihood they will have a productive workforce and the opportunity to help the community overall,” says Short.
Make the Case for Involvement
The Marinette collaboration also helped businesses understand the critical role they could play in stemming the community’s substance use problem—not only by promoting drug-free workplaces but also by providing a link to those individuals and families in greatest need.
Parents, for example, who might not attend an after-school program on the warning signs of youth drug use could be reached in their workplace.
"When we have after-school assemblies for parents, maybe five people show up," Short says. "The reality is we have to go where the parents are, and they're at their workplaces. We knew we could do a better job of connecting with businesses not only to educate managers about substance abuse among employees, but to reach parents to provide the education and training they need for themselves and their families."
Reduce Barriers to Participation
Employers who agreed to get on board with substance use prevention needed to make it doable within the constraints of their work day. Recognizing that time is money, the collaborating partners made lunchtime presentations available to businesses. This enabled employees to attend educational programming on substance use and misuse during the work day, when they would be more likely to attend, without taking time away from their jobs.
Participation in onsite prevention events also grew as more employees became interested in learning about the signs and symptoms of substance use and misuse. Other employers who've heard about the programming now want to bring it into their workplaces. As discussion of substance use prevention becomes more commonplace, the stigma lessens and program participation increases.
The Tri-City Area United Way, which serves Marinette and Oconto, Wisconsin, and Menominee, Michigan, had been working on a multi-pronged approach to substance use prevention since early 2013. "We started noticing some people [in the Anti-Opioid Task Force] were involved in multiple other [prevention] groups around town," the Chamber's Boudreau says. "We realized we had some duplication of effort."
In 2014, with substance use prevention work with Marinette businesses now underway, the Anti-Opioid Task Force was brought under the United Way's Cradle to Career initiative Substance Abuse Task Force. This meant less duplication of effort and greater reach and support.
The United Way was happy to step up and take the reins.
Leave Your Ego at the Door
Businesses are an important part of promoting substance use prevention in the community. But Phil Everhart, Executive Director of the Tri-City Area United Way, says the key to successful collaboration is "leave your ego at the door" and be willing to tackle a mutual problem.
"Whether it was the business community, the medical community, or human services, we've all recognized that there was a problem that was growing fast and ugly," Everhart says. "We were willing to say, 'All right, we've got the problem. Let's get together and attack it head on.' As a result, the working relationships here between organizations has been phenomenal.”
The success of the Chamber of Commerce's outreach work set the stage for greater collaboration between community leaders, substance use prevention specialists, and businesses. The Tri-City Area United Way was ready to take it to the next level.
Building on the original task force's work, the Tri-City United Way has begun piloting a substance use prevention training program with three of Marinette’s leading employers. The initiative is led by Brian Bourgeois, Human Resources Manager at ChemDesign Products Inc.
"We are fortunate that the employers in Marinette are committed and engaged in activities that promote a healthy workforce," Bourgeois says. "While employers cannot mandate workers to voluntarily attend local seminars geared towards drug abuse, we can host meetings during business hours to educate our workforce on options available to identify and address drug and alcohol addiction. Our mission is to have employers unite and expand their onsite training programs to include substance abuse awareness."
Now, new businesses are lining up to take advantage of the United Way's substance use prevention program once the pilot concludes.
"By uniting local businesses we send a clear message that we all have similar policies that promote a 'clean' workforce," Bourgeois says. "Our training offers assistance to families that struggle with addiction and other life problems to foster a more focused and informed lifestyle. Employers are a key component to reaching families in the community."
1. Substance Abuse Services in Wisconsin: 2013 Annual Report to the Governor. (2015, April). Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Available at https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p01023.pdf
2. Drugs and the Workplace. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. Retrieved online 28 September 2018. Available at https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/addiction-update/drugs-and-alcohol-in-the-workplace
3. Making Your Workplace Drug-Free: A Kit for Employers. (2007, January). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Available at http://store.samhsa.gov/product/Making-Your-Workplace-Drug-Free/SMA07-4230