Sununu asks businesses to increase drug abuse prevention

  • Gov. Chris Sununu talks to members of the press the afternoon after the House Finance Committee's proposed budget failed to pass at the State House in Concord on April 5, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Associated Press
Published: 4/7/2017 10:55:21 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu cited his own efforts at the ski area he used to run and urged businesses Friday to take on a greater role in preventing opioid misuse and helping workers connect with treatment.

Sununu, a Republican and former CEO at Waterville Valley ski area, spoke at a daylong summit organized by the Opioid Task Force for Strafford County. He said schools not only need to do a better job of educating children about substance misuse prevention, but that those prevention efforts need to seamlessly continue into the workplace.

Sununu said high turnover due to employee substance misuse was costing the ski area a significant amount of money, so about two years ago, he and others created a “buddy system” to watch struggling workers with those already in recovery and began encouraging employees to ask for help.

“It’s amazing, within a week, the flood of staff that were coming in to the HR office confidentially, just opening up, talking about it,” he said. “Then quietly, we would get them the resources and partnerships they needed, and we were able to retain such a higher number of staff.”

Sununu acknowledged the company was largely “winging it,” but said he hopes other businesses will tackle the problem in a formal way.

“We were just kind of doing it on our own,” he said. “Now we’re talking about it more across the state. Now we’re understanding that prevention is more than just in schools ... prevention doesn’t stop because you leave the 12th grade.”

Sununu was followed by representatives from two companies that have already done what he’s asking other businesses to do.

Pete Hanson is the personnel manager at Turbocam, an engineering and manufacturing company in Barrington whose products include jet engine parts. He said the turning point for him was investigating an incident where a worker came to work obviously impaired and finding out that half a dozen of his colleagues knew he had a problem but didn’t talk about it.

“We’ve got to come up with a plan to make it more feasible for people to come forward and talk about things before there’s a crisis,” he said.

While the company requires drug testing before hiring new workers, those who fail subsequent tests are not automatically fired, he said. Instead, they are supported, closely monitored, and held accountable.

“You have a brief moment in time to extend that help,” he said.

Bob Roy of TE SubCom, in Newington, said an employee’s overdose in a bathroom at the start of a shift prompted his company to reevaluate its policies and approach.

The company, which makes undersea fiberoptic cables, has a “one and done” policy – those who fail random drug tests are fired. But supervisors have been trained to spot the signs of substance misuse issues and to guide workers toward help, Roy said. For example, those who notice troublesome patterns emerging in attendance or output, can ask employees about that, he said.

“Quite often once you start down that road of conversation that opens the lid and you get that information, and you can talk about where they may have a problem and what they may need for resources,” he said.

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