Seminar advises employers how to create a recovery-friendly workplace

ABINGTON, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A panel of experts on the opioid epidemic and substance abuse converged at Penn State Abington Tuesday, shining a light on the stigma some may face when trying to return to facets of normalcy.

Opioid epidemic expert and keynote speaker Dr. Glenn Sterner — joined by human resources professionals, treatment center workers and those recovering from opioid addiction — discussed the challenges some endure when trying to return to the workplace.

Sterner, a Penn State Abington criminal justice professor, advised employers to provide an environment that helps those on the road to recovery reach success.

“Why wouldn't you want to make sure that they have every signal resource to make sure that's possible?” he asked. “If this person has a diagnosed substance abuse disorder, or even an undiagnosed substance abuse disorder — a medical condition that is causing them to have workplace issues — let's make sure we have an environment that you at least are aware of their  experience, but also making sure they have the protections as well as the resources and the environment to talk about these issues along the way.”

Sterner, a member of the Pennsylvania Opioid Overdose Task Force, also founded the Share Your Opioid Story initiative, a movement to dispel myths and decrease the stigma of the opioid crisis. 

Seminar attendees were able to receive credit hours toward becoming certified recovery specialists.

Other panelists emphasized the importance of creating recovery-friendly workplaces.

John Becker, a former Hatboro Police detective sergeant, shared some of his own struggles. He lost his job nine years ago when he became addicted to opioids, but he was able to recover. He now works with first responders who are also recovering from substance abuse at Caron Treatment Centers, providing training and education on stress, trauma, suicide and addiction.

“More and more, you are seeing events like this where folks are getting educated and recognizing they don't have to fire somebody, when they can get them help and return them back as productive employees,” he said.