Mahoning-Trumbull drug initiative launched in area

By William K. Alcorn


The Trumbull and Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery boards, in partnership with the Working Partners organization, have enlisted 20 local stakeholder employers to launch an initiative to address the safety and economic threats of substance abuse in the workplace.

The two public health organizations joined with for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations and governments to launch the Working Partners Drug-Free Workforce Community Initiative in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

The local effort is the product of a public-private partnership between the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services and Working Partners. The initiative supports local employment strategies related to drug-free workplaces.

OhioMHAS provided funding for 18 local communities, including Mahoning and Trumbull counties, to work with Working Partners to coordinate stakeholder meetings to assess specific community needs and develop local action plans leading to strong, local drug-free work forces by employing a variety of best practices that meet the identified needs, officials said.

During the initial stakeholders meeting in mid-December, participants learned about the objectives of the initiative.

Among those are increasing workforce readiness and employability; building healthier, stronger and productive workplaces; creating systems to educate employees who are parents or have influence over young people to prevent substance abuse among that population, said Lauren Thorp, director of recovery and youth programs at the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

Following the initial stakeholder meeting, Dale Foerster of Starr Manufacturing in Vienna Township said that by “collecting data and bringing to light the substance abuse issues we face in our community, sharing best practices and working corroboratively, we have the opportunity to tackle this issue in a focused way and have a true impact.”

“We are excited to begin the important work of bringing employers and community leaders together to address the drug-related issues facing our community” said Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

The initial stakeholder meeting was the first step in the process of making the community’s workplaces safer and its workforce and community stronger, Piccirilli said.

At a second stakeholders meeting on Wednesday, attendees tasked Working Partners and the Trumbull and Mahoning Mental Health and Recovery boards to survey several thousand businesses in the two counties to learn their perceptions, attitudes, knowledge and practices in how they relate to substance abuse in their workplaces.

Stakeholder meetings are joint ventures of the Mahoning County and Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery boards because many businesses overlap boundaries of the two counties.

However, the respective mental health and recovery boards are otherwise acting independently to achieve the over-arching purpose of the initiative, which is to increase an employable, drug-free workforce in Ohio and in their counties, officials said.

One of the first specific activities is to email a survey to more than 3,000 businesses in each of the two counties to get information from them, such as how difficult it is to find new employees; the consequences suffered by their organization due to employee substance abuse; the percentage of pre-employment or new hires whose drug tests come back positive; and the disciplinary action usually taken when an employee tests positive the first time. The survey also asks employers what substance abuse they perceive to be the greatest threat to Ohio’s workforce, Thorp said.

“We need to know what’s going with businesses ... look at the problem through a business lens ... so we can tailor what we do to fit their world. We want to work with businesses,” she said.

“One of our first priorities is to bring five businesses in each county on-board with the program. We are offering a free workshop to help businesses develop and/or revise their drug-free workplace plan to include marijuana use now that it’s legal in Ohio for medical use. We want to develop technical assistance in developing drug-free workplace policies, and offer future training for potential employees about what employers expect with regard to drug use,” Thorp said.

“We have joint stakeholder meetings, but Mahoning County is initially working with five businesses in Austintown Township on drug-free polices, and Trumbull County is working with five businesses in Vienna Township to accomplish the same thing,” said Brenda Heidinger, associate director of the Mahoning Mental Health and Recovery Board.

The anonymous survey is being circulated via email by the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber to its mailing list on behalf of the initiative, Heidinger said.

“We need hard data so we can put together a program to meet employers’ needs and to enable us to determine if the program is having a positive impact,” she said.

“We want to ensure that local employers can more easily find employable people and help make our area more attractive to prospective employers,” Heidinger said.

Mahoning County employers interested in learning more about or becoming involved in the substance abuse initiative should call Brenda Heidinger at 330-746-2959 ext. 7664; those in Trumbull County should call Lauren Thorp at 330-675-2765 ext. 119.

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