Tune into any news source these days, and you can’t help but hear about Canada’s opioid addiction problem. The country, including Saskatchewan, is mired in a serious crisis of people struggling with addiction. While we are hearing much about opioids, today’s addiction problems still include alcohol and gambling. So what does this mean to Saskatchewan’s business community? Well, it means a lot and it is time to dig into the heart of the matter. Industry West caught up with Jacqueline Hoffman, CEO of Prairie Sky Recovery Centre, to learn more about the province’s addiction problem and what employers need to know.
Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of addiction in Canada, per capita. The high rate of addiction in our province costs Saskatchewan around $1 billion per year, and for the whole country that number leaps to $40 billion, according to Dr. Colleen Anne Dell, who held the Research Chair in Substance Abuse at the University of Saskatchewan from 2007 to 2016.1 Along with addiction comes increased crime and public health problems, and Saskatchewan is no exception. Statistics Canada says North Battleford is the most crime-plagued city in Canada, with a severity score nearly two and a half times that of our province which sadly also has the most crime.2 The province also has the highest rates of HIV in Canada, with 2,091 cases reported between 1985 and 2016. The number of new cases in Saskatchewan is almost triple the national average, according to Dr. Kris Stewart, who is part of the Saskatchewan HIV Collaborative.3
The problem in our province is very real, according to Hoffman. “Prairie men have the least healthy lifestyles of all of Canada, and our provincial hospitalization rates for alcohol abuse are 44 per cent higher than national average. These are grim statistics,” she says. And, once an addict is ready to accept treatment, wait is often too long. “Wait times for treatment should be negligible, as waiting for help drastically increases failure for long term sobriety,” says Hoffman. “Today, the average wait time for access to a treatment bed in Saskatchewan is eight to twelve weeks.” Not only are wait times excessive, but there are gaps in addiction services in the province, especially in rural areas.
Hoffman sees every kind of addict at Prairie Sky, and no family should consider themselves immune to the possibility of addiction. Addiction is an equal opportunity disease. “We see farmers using crystal meth to get their crop off. Doctors are abusing cocaine to get through an 18-hour shift,” says Hoffman. “Teachers are abusing prescription medications to cope with crowded classrooms. Lawyers and other high stress professionals are high functioning alcoholics. Police officers and paramedics are at risk for addiction due to vicarious trauma, and PTSD. This is the reality of addictions in Saskatchewan.” The stereotypes of addiction and the judgement around it has to end, says Hoffman. She notes that addiction is a progressive disease. “Those who have employment, families and supports can end up homeless, jobless, friendless and accessing emergency services such as shelters and food banks,” she says. “It’s a rabbit hole, and only the addict or alcoholic knows how far it goes. Addiction can turn success into poverty, love into hate, health into death—it’s just a matter of time if help is not forthcoming.”
As an employer, what can you do to deal with addiction? The first step is recognizing the problem. Many employers don’t know how to identify addiction, and are at a loss as to how to deal with substance abuse disclosure. “Employers may be seeing it and not even know what they are experiencing. For example, they may have a contractor hired who can’t seem to show up or an employee that is highly emotional and unstable,” says Hoffman. “And many times, employers just think that addiction can be handled by our medical system and the employee benefits package. But the reality is, it doesn’t. It’s the employer that needs to act.” According to Hoffman, employers need to present options to their employees. They need to provide hands-on help for those who are in crisis and most importantly, there needs to be training within the human resources or management of their organization to know how to deal with issues that arise. “Genuine empathy is hard for those who have never dealt first-hand with addictions, and fear of liability often overrides it,” says Hoffman. “But, it doesn’t need to be that way.” Employers need education to be able to identify behaviours common to addiction. “Take a step back and assess without judgement,” says Hoffman. “Your employee isn’t trying to sabotage your business, but rather function in an ‘un-functional’ situation.”
Most employers, when they are finally face-to-face with their employee, are not surprised to hear they are suffering from addiction. “If you suspect a substance abuse disorder, having a frank, non-judgmental conversation can do wonders,” says Hoffman. “However, you have to have actions to back it up—knowing if you can access disability benefits so they can attend treatment.” Find out if the benefits within your employee insurance package include residential addictions treatment and know how to access it. Find a sober coach or someone within the community to point you toward 12-step meetings. Call a private centre, such as Prairie Sky Recovery, about supports and information. “Laying off an employee and leaving them to sort it out on their own will often lead them to get worse,” says Hoffman. “No money, no job to attend and an eight to twelve week wait time may lead to a whole new spiral. If you’ve investing time, training, and planning into a valued employee—then why not invest in a private addictions program to help immediately to get them back on track?”
As an employer, pretending an issue doesn’t exist simply can’t happen any more. It will hurt your other employees and team morale, and you can’t risk the liability of having someone who is not fit for work behind the wheel or at the helm of machinery. “Taking action isn’t difficult. Look into your benefits. Call your Employee Assistance Program,” says Hoffman. “Discuss with management what you can afford for each employee and what the benefit to your company healthy, sober employees are. Most of all, act with compassion, empathy and knowledge, because the risk of not acting is the biggest danger of all.”
Prairie Sky Recovery Centre offers employers education and training on a variety of subjects surrounding addictions. Visit prairieskyrecovery.ca for details.
1Addiction Research Chairaddictionresearchchair.ca/home/about-dr-dell/
2Canada’s most dangerous place, North Battleford, is fighting for its future
3Saskatchewan’s HIV rate highest in Canada, up 800% in 1 region cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/saskatchewan-hiv-rate-highest-canada-1.4351057