INDIANAPOLIS — Two years ago, global high-tech company Belden noticed it couldn't fill jobs at its Richmond plant because 10 percent of its applicants were failing initial drug screens.

That was troubling since a third of the plant's 700 workers were within five years of retirement.

Now, potential Belden employees who fail a drug test are given a second chance. They can participate in a drug rehab program offered through Meridian Health. Once completed and when they commit to a substance-free lifestyle, the potential worker can get a job.

Since launching its Pathways to Employment in February 2018, 30 candidates have joined the Richmond program, according to Ellen Drazen, corporate communications manager for Belden.

Of those, 12 completed the program and are operating machinery; six are in treatment but working in safety-sensitive positions such as cleaning or conducting inventory; three are being assessed and nine have left.

The company estimates average costs at $16,000 for each program participant and says the costs are beneficial because treatment results in loyal, skilled employees. The program is expanding to facilities in Syracuse, N.Y., and Washington, Pa.

"We know that businesses need a healthy workforce and we also know that people in recovery from a substance use disorder need jobs," said Jim McClelland, Indiana executive director for Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement. "Effective treatment can go a long way toward filling both needs in ways that are beneficial to employers and employees."

Belden's second chance program is one of the exceptions in Indiana.

A statewide survey by Indiana Workforce Recovery, a project through the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Wellness Council of Indiana, shows that 35 percent of employers do not have a basic written drug or alcohol misuse policy. Only 45 percent have a plan for directing employees to receive assistance with substance misuse problems.

On Monday, guidelines were offered to help employers develop policies. Guidelines can be found at https://www.in.gov/recovery.

Companies are encouraged to have a written policy and procedures in place along with employee education programs, supervisor training, drug and alcohol testing, and employee assistance plans. Employers were urged to have second-chance programs available.

Of more than 350 employers surveyed, 76 percent strongly agreed or agreed that substance abuse is a community problem but only 13 percent believed it was a problem for their own organization.

Hoosier workers who fail a drug screen for the first time are as likely to be terminated, at 22 percent, as they are given a second chance, at 24 percent.

"It goes far beyond a policy; a drug-free workplace is about a culture," said Jennifer Pferrer, executive director of the Wellness Council of Indiana.

Over 200,000 Hoosiers are currently struggling with substance use disorder, Pferrer said. Those numbers are nearly enough to fill seats at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or sell out three Indianapolis Colts games, she added.

Indiana recently led the nation with a 31 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions, according to Dr. John Hinton, lead medical director for Anthem.

That effort has been spurred in part by policy changes such as a pharmacy home program that allows doctors better access to monitor opioid use.

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