The biggest employer in rural Gallatin County, Dorman Products, takes a stand on addiction

Posted at 6:00 AM, Jun 28, 2016

This article is part of WCPO's Heroin Project: How Do We Respond?

WARSAW, Ky. -- It’s beautiful in Gallatin County. Back roads, rolling hills, river views, farms.

It’s peaceful to the eye, but Gallatin County has a drug problem.

This county of only 8,500 people, 40 miles from downtown Cincinnati, has Kentucky’s third highest death rate from drug overdoses, according to a just-released state report. 

And treatment is scarce. 

So when the county’s largest employer stepped up and got involved, people noticed.

About 650 people work at Dorman Products, packaging and shipping car parts to some of the country’s biggest parts retailers, like AutoZone, Advance and NAPA. What it's doing to answer the drug problem among its workforce, and in its community, could be a model for other businesses to follow as the region’s epidemic of heroin and pain pill addiction shows no signs of easing.

Dorman’s workforce got involved when its site director, Jamie Johnson experienced firsthand the damage heroin causes. Like many others who’ve lived the damage caused by heroin addiction, Johnson was moved to do something. What he did was get his employees energized around a project they call Stand With Us.

They organized weekly classes for families, they make phone calls of support, they reached out to the school system, they organize outing with kids.

And they work with employees who may have a problem. So far, about 10 have come forward.

At Dorman Products, some of the employees work on fast-moving machines. Forklifts crisscross the floor. It’s no place for someone with a drug problem. If you’re on dope, it’s a lot more likely you’ll get hurt or hurt someone else. 

The floor of Dorman Products Photo: Anthony Mirones WCPO

Dorman drug tests its employees (the company calls them “contributors”). If they test positive, they are fired. But if they come forward with their problem first, company officials say they’ll work with them so they can get sober and return to their jobs.

It’s a relatively compassionate response to a problem that could not only get someone fired, but jailed, possibly sending them deeper into a spiral.

“We’re trying to help our contributors rather than discard them,” says Damon Lewis. He’s an IT guy who’s heading up the Stand With Us project.

Damon Lewis

This week, it’s his turn to carry the cell phone that serves as the 24-hour helpline for anyone in the community with a drug problem or who just has questions (the number is 859-242-0177).

Like so many others in Warsaw, Ky. and the surrounding county, Lewis has seen the damage heroin addiction causes, through a family member who has overdosed twice.

So has Debbie Bladen. Her 24-year-old daughter, Brandi, is on her third lockup in jail. Brandi’s enrolled in treatment three times in Louisville and has an 8-year-old son whom she lost custody of six years ago.

Debbie Bladen Photo: Anthony Mirones WCPO

Debbie volunteers on the Stand With Us support team, lending an ear to those with addictions or their family members and leading classes on Wednesday nights for those experiencing addiction or anyone who just wants to get involved.

Barb Meisberger has a relative who’s been using drugs for nearly 10 years – pot, coke, heroin – and who has been in and out of rehab several times.

Barb's working on building awareness of the dangers of drugs. Her team’s big effort recently was a local version of “The Amazing Race,” which earned front-page coverage in the weekly Gallatin County News. “Of all local organizations trying to curb the rise in addiction, Dorman’s Stand With Us committee has been the most active,” the article read.

Stand With Us volunteers just took a major step toward solidifying their role in the community. They organized themselves into a separate, 501c3 not-for-profit, which will make it easier to raise money, apply for grants and gain more community recognition.

The group started with a vision, a leader and a handful of committed volunteers. It’s growing and has made connections with other businesses and community groups. Jim Thaxton of the Three Rivers District Health Department calls the effort “a model for all employers dealing with the realities of today's easy access to substances and the opportunities to abuse them.”

The heroin problem is complex and growing; there’s no easy answer. But this company’s effort is showing that businesses that value the well-being of their workers and their families and that care about the community they are profiting from, can start to make a difference.