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Addiction in the Workplace: What you can’t see, but you can feel

laurie dhue

Founder & President
@Laurie Dhue Media

joe schrank

founder
@High Sobriety Treatment

Laurie Dhue:
Hello again. How was lunch? Everyone comatose? Great. Well, we’re so glad you’re here. As I mentioned in my keynote, it’s really my pleasure to be on the stage with a man who means so much to me personally and professionally. Joe Schrank is joining me. We have been in each other’s lives for about 10 years. Joe is one of the leading advocates for recovery in this country. He’s done just about every job there is in this crazy field.

He has his masters in social work, he is a clinical social worker who also has founded several rehabs, including the first sober living in all of New York City. Now he runs High Sobriety, which I will let Joe talk about in a moment, but it is basically all about harm reduction. It is about utilizing marijuana to help people who are heroin addicts. When you go from heroin to marijuana, it’s a win. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a win, but it is. I will let Joe tell you more about that in a bit. Please help me welcome Joe Schrank. It’s so nice to sit here in this setting with you. You and I have had hundreds of talks over the years, but here we are on a big fancy stage and everything.

Joe Schrank:
Yeah, this is like teaching undergrads, where there’s like, three people up in the stands …

Laurie Dhue:
Hopefully there’s more than three.

Joe Schrank:
Well, right, but it’s okay. There wasn’t really that many people at the Summit on the Mount. I’m okay with the audience.

Laurie Dhue:
This is why I love this guy. You have been in this field for 20 years, since getting sober yourself.

Joe Schrank:
Yes.

Laurie Dhue:
You have seen the evolution of recovery in this country. Today, we’ve been talking so much about the corporate culture and companies, how they deal with people with mental illness and substance abuse, what they might be afraid of, what employees might be afraid of. You know, the impact of addiction in this country is everywhere. This disease, as I pointed out in my keynote, costs us half a trillion dollars a year. It costs employers $104 billion a year. 88,000 people die of alcoholism. More people die from opiate overdoses than they do in traffic accidents, in gun related deaths, and of HIV when HIV was at its most critical point, and yet it doesn’t get the kind of attention that we think it deserves. Why not?

Joe Schrank:
It’s a very good question. You know, look, people are angry with addicts, and for good reason. In the height of addiction we’re very difficult people. Just because we go to rehab doesn’t mean we stop being difficult people. I think that that’s probably part of it. I think that there’s a giant cultural war on people who use drugs. We think of drug use as inherently pathology or inherently crime. It’s neither. There are millions of people who can safely use drugs unimpaired. Who live their lives, they pay their taxes, they don’t have necessarily have a problem. There is no diagnosis without impairment.

In America, we’ve always crafted our approach to drug use as something that is to be dealt with by a law enforcement official. The top policymaker in the country with the ONDCP, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has typically been a general, Barry MccAffrey, one of my favorite people. Or [Gilcore Lakowski 00:04:18], who was a great guy, but he was the chief of police of Seattle. He was not a social worker. He was not a physician. He was not a public health expert. As long as we frame addiction as crime, because it gets a lot of attention.

Laurie Dhue:
Addiction?

Joe Schrank:
Absolutely. It gets a lot of attention, it gets a lot of financing, but it’s misguided and it’s misdirected. We’ve always thought we’re going to incarcerate our way out of the addiction problem, and we are not going to do that. Unfortunately, you know, the Obama Administration was starting to make strides towards reframing that idea, and now it’s completely gone the other way. As long as I’m on a rant here, you know, Senator Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general has, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana. Marijuana’s the worst thing in the world.” He wants to incarcerate any cannabis user, and yet he was the senator of a state that ranks way up there with obesity, smoking, emphysema, lung cancer, alcoholism. Distilling moonshine is perfectly acceptable.

Laurie Dhue:
But smoking pot is not.

Joe Schrank:
But smoking pot is not. We have to rethink the way that we look at drug policy entirely, or we’re not going to have … You and I have done a tremendous amount of fundraising for this particular issue, which is not easy to do. I thought that the issue that affected the most people got the most attention and the most research and the most money. Since everybody is impacted by addiction, what I thought was, you know, people were just going to give money to me for my causes. I thought, “Oh, hey, you know you’re right. Have a check.” I’ve come up with a lot of different things, one of them being a recovery high school in New York.

Laurie Dhue:
Which never got off the ground. Not really, because of of not being political issue.

Joe Schrank:
Right, but …

Laurie Dhue:
Addiction isn’t a political issue, it’s a human issue.

Joe Schrank:
Right. Part of what I thought was going to happen was, I would host a dinner with my rich and famous clients and say, “Well, you all have a lot of money. Shouldn’t we help these kids out?” Which is what I did, and I guess the answer was no. It’s incredibly difficult to engage people into this particular issue.

Laurie Dhue:
Right. You and I spend a lot of time going around the country and trying to advocate for this disease and educate people about it. As I mentioned in my speech earlier, we know that between 23 and 25 million Americans meet the criteria for addiction in this country. Then I pose the question, “Imagine if 23 million people had HIV or cancer.” We’d be figuring it out, wouldn’t we?

Joe Schrank:
Well, we would be figuring it out. The thing that really needs to change about the way that we think of addiction in terms of making strides, is that we have to stop thinking of the person as at fault. Right? Because they are responsible and there is a behavioral element to addiction and addicted behaviors to be sure. There is a behavioral element with type two diabetes. There is a behavioral element with obesity, with lung cancer, hypertension, but we don’t blame those people for having those illnesses.

Laurie Dhue:
Yeah, we don’t blame an obese person for eating too much candy or living a certain lifestyle, not exercising.

Joe Schrank:
Well, we would certainly never say to an obese person, “What do you mean you need heart surgery? You ate all those cheeseburgers. You should really go to jail instead of having care.” We would never do that to other illnesses. Why we do that with addiction, personally I blame Nixon, right, for launching this war on drugs.

Laurie Dhue:
That has been a colossal failure.

Joe Schrank:
It’s a war on people. You know, I always say to people, “Well, okay. You want to structure cannabis laws because you don’t like people who use cannabis. It’s not that you have anything to say necessarily against cannabis, you don’t like the people who use it.” I always tell them, “I don’t like country clubs and martinis, so how about if we just lock you up?” It does not penetrate, really, those kinds of people who are advocating to criminalize cannabis use.

Laurie Dhue:
Considering where we are today and who’s in the audience and what this conference has all been about, I would love for you, as someone who’s been involved in this issue for two decades, what you want people to understand about mental illness and addiction, how the two meet, and what it really means for our culture. Everyone in this room knows someone, or is a family member, or is a person who is suffering from some form of mental illness or some form of addiction. What do you want people to know really on the core level of this?

Joe Schrank:
It think there’s a bunch of different things to know, for sure. One of them is, people with addiction are most likely the least accurate source of information about themselves. When we’re trying to encourage people to self report, they might not even have the awareness, the education, the languaging to actually say, “I need help with this particular problem.” We need to step back into a precontemplative state of change before ever asking people to self report something that they’re trying to conceal.

Laurie Dhue:
What does that mean for therapists, for HR departments, for companies?

Joe Schrank:
Well, look, one of my big clients for many years was Goldman Sachs. They still are. I’m kind of a Goldman Sachs legend. I walk in the building and people are like, “Oh boy, someone’s going to rehab. Okay.” I said, “Why don’t we have a lunchtime mutual help meeting at Goldman Sachs, right here in the building?”

Laurie Dhue:
Mutual help meaning, 12 step …

Joe Schrank:
AA, 12 step approach, whatever it is, however you want to characterize it. They looked at me like, “Wait a minute, what do you want to do? You want to what?” To me, there’s a disconnect between what we say and what we do. If we were genuinely concerned about people who are going off to treatment stabilizing, we would give them all of the support and advocacy when they return from treatment. You know, when somebody goes, has cancer treatment, they have screenings for a minimum of five years. You and I were on the board with that woman who said, she had in the same year went to rehab and had breast cancer, and breast cancer was easier. When she had breast cancer, the neighbors brought food, the said, “What can we do? Can we take your kids to soccer?” When she went to rehab, there was nothing.

Laurie Dhue:
It was like crickets, no one cared.

Joe Schrank:
There was just no response from the community. I think that, you know, that’s really the thing, is words can’t be that disconnected from actions. We have to genuinely support people with what we do, not just with …