WASHINGTON – Natasha Combs’ struggle with substance use disorder was triggered by a seemingly harmless event – a prescription for painkillers following a surgery. Little did she know this would be the opening chapter in a long and arduous battle. But her struggle didn’t stop at addiction; it was compounded by a cascade of grief. In a heart-wrenching succession of losses, Natasha mourned the passing of her brother, mother, husband, best friend, and grandmother in a remarkably short time period.

Seeking help was the turning point, and she checked herself into a treatment facility, determined to regain control of her life. Yet, life had more trials in store when she was fired from her job.

“I was officially fired 10 days after I went to treatment. Nobody told me. I got a letter in the mail, and when somebody had brought my mail while I was in treatment, all the letter said was that I was no longer employed,” Combs said during an interview for an upcoming Grieving Out Loud podcast episode..

Now without insurance or a job, Natasha contemplated leaving treatment, but at the same time she feared that if she did, she would relapse. 

Unfortunately, Natasha’s story is not that unusual. The United States is battling its deadliest drug epidemic in history, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting another record-breaking number of deaths this month. According to the statistics released in November, more than 112,000 Americans died from drug overdoses and fentanyl poisonings from May 2022 to May 2023.

To address the epidemic, the Biden administration has released a new guidebook for employers, aiming to equip them with the tools to effectively address substance use disorder issues among their employees. It covers strategies to hire people in recovery, promote a workplace culture that supports recovery, and overall, helps companies take a more active role in the fight against addiction.

“Promoting recovery-ready workplace policies across the private and public sector helps the families and communities most impacted by the overdose epidemic while also helping to bolster our economy,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra.

The new initiative urges companies to take proactive steps to ensure that those in recovery don’t encounter discrimination in the workplace. It also encourages the creation of a recovery-friendly work culture that involves initiatives like peer support groups and granting time off for recovery-related activities.

In addition to the guidebook, the White House has proposed a new model law for state legislators. The aim is to set up a program that allows employers to become certified as recovery-ready workplaces, promoting policies that create a healthy work atmosphere. If this model legislation is adopted by state legislatures, it would create tax credits and stipends for certified recovery-ready workplaces and sets up grant programs to help advance these recovery-friendly environments.

“As a former governor, I’ve seen the devastating impact that substance use disorder is having on communities across the country firsthand,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “We all need to meet this moment – that means federal, state, Tribal, and local government and the private sector.”

Despite Natasha losing her job, she thankfully found financial support through an Emily’s Hope treatment scholarship. The scholarship helped pay for her insurance and medications.

“Just knowing that I don’t have that financial burden and that I have a roof over my head and things like that is life-changing, and it saved my life,” Combs said.

You can find information on how to donate towards an Emily’s Hope treatment scholarship here.