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Ohio funding will help connect those recovering from substance use disorders to jobs

Three people sit at a wooden table. The frame focuses on their hands, holding pens and paper.
Dylan Gillis
Federal funding is coming to Ohio's communities to connect those with substance use disorders to employment.

People recovering from substance use disorders can struggle to find work. Several programs across Ohio aim to help and will get a boost from federal funding.

The Appalachian Regional Commission distributed $2 million to create employment programs in six locations across the state. The funds will help Meigs County in southeastern Ohio build its very first Recovery Community Organization, a group that will provide outreach to people with substance use disorders from people with lived experience.

The organization, in conjunction with the local non-profit Rural Action, will build a new employment program that will connect those in the early stages of treatment for substance use disorders with part-time employment, in the hopes of transitioning them back into the workforce.

Paul Patton, chief innovation officer at Rural Action, said employment is an important stepping stone in the recovery process.

“So that they're set up by the time that they're done in this program, that we may be able to get them to walk into more permanent, long-term, family-sustaining jobs,” Patton said.

‘A long history’

Meigs County, like much of the Appalachian region, has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. The rate of unintentional overdose deaths exceed both state and national averages, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.

Patton said it’s not a coincidence: The prevalence of substance use disorders in the region is connected to the region’s former dependence on coal mining. He said these taxing physical jobs led to higher rates of opioid use.

“So much of the economic transition that has been going on in the Appalachian region has still very much left Meigs County in a just a distressed position,” he said.

Amid coal’s decline, Patton said it’s important to create and connect those who have been impacted by the opioid epidemic with new opportunities.

A map of Ohio shows overdose death rates from 2017-2021. Much of southeastern Ohio has high rates of unintentional drug overdose deaths.
The Ohio Department of Health
Much of southeastern Ohio struggles with high rates of overdose deaths.

Wrap-around services

In order to do so, Patton said people in recovery need special support in the workplace. Transportation is often a barrier, as is access to certification or education needed for certain types of jobs.

The new employment program aims to address all that by catering to each person’s unique needs. Patton said participants will work around four hours a day, to get accustomed to the workplace, and then they will have the option to attend addiction support meetings or training sessions in Microsoft Excel.

Around 20 local organizations are a part of the program. Patton said the employers are getting training, too. They’ll learn how to make workplaces more accommodating for individuals in recovery and break down the stigma behind hiring someone with an opioid use disorder.

“These individuals have many skills that can be applied to the workforce. They have value, and they can bring a lot to the employer and to the workplace that may be missing, currently,” Patton said.

Addiction and employment

Patton said addiction not only devastates families, it has a major impact on the local economy.

He said many who struggle with substance use disorders are working-age people who aren’t employed or a part of the local tax base. He believes it’s part of what leads to low rates of labor participation in the region.

Beyond that, he said many communities don’t value the individual experiences of people with opioid use disorders. He said he hopes his program has a part in changing that.

“The ultimate end-game is that people's lives are better, our communities are stronger, [and] we have more participation in our communities from individuals that do have value and who can also share with us,” Patton said.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.