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Employers can do a lot to fight the raging heroin and opioid epidemics, experts said Friday.

Speaking to several dozen people who attended a workshop organized by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, they said business have both the tools and the reason to make a difference.

“Guess who has the most leverage to get people into treatment?” said Chuck Mazzitti, owner of Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP Services Inc., which offers substance use therapy. “Their employers. “

He said he has seen people walk out on their families and their doctors, but he has not seen them as willing to walk out on their jobs, “because they need the money and it’s tied to their identity.”

“Maybe you tell them, ‘If you don’t do something about this, you’re fired,’” he said. “And maybe you end up firing them, and they get another job, but then if the same thing happens there, maybe they start taking it seriously.”

That kind of approach requires starting with a rock-solid drug-free workplace program, he said, and having policies and procedures in place.

“Educate your managers on the signs of addiction, what to do when they’ve identified somebody who might have a problem,” he said. “Train employees on what to do if they have drug and alcohol problems.”

District Attorney Craig Stedman agreed, advising being on the lookout for anything from dilated pupils to a change in performance.

“Engage, listen, talk, support events such as this,” he said. “You can literally save somebody's life by talking to them.”

Don Bowers, who has announced that he will soon retire as chief of the New Holland Police Department, said businesses can also help another way.

“You have to support rehab,” he said. “Our local judge is very responsive to this, he wants to send kids to rehab, but we don’t have rehab in New Holland.”

Stedman noted that insurance often covers only 30 days of inpatient rehabilitation, even though experience has shown that a much longer course of treatment is usually required for effective recovery.

“There is an enormous toll on the community, on the businesses, on the families,” he said, noting that the epidemic will push up health insurance costs.

Mazzitti also noted that statistically, it’s safe to assume that between 4 and 8 percent of workers at a company will have some of addiction.

“People in active addiction function at about 75 percent productivity, so the direct cost to you is 25 percent of their salary, just on that,” he said.

The event Friday was the first of what the Chamber said would be a series of workshops focused on how the business community can help improve the quality of life in Lancaster County, which is measured in the Prosperity Indicators report it partners with a number of organizations to produce annually.

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