A few days ago, news began to circulate that Harris Wittels was found dead in his home at the age of 30. He was a writer for such shows as Parks and Recreation, and The Sarah Silverman Program. The cause of death is being reported as “most likely” drug overdose.
Wittels was a smart, financially comfortable, well-connected, much loved, young, good looking professional at the top of his game. His struggle with drug addiction was no secret to either peers or fans. He had been in and out of rehab quite recently. As a stand-up comic, his act, up to the point of his death, focused on drug use.
During one of his relapses, when he first turned to heroine, he would leave his office at the end of the day, and go directly to Skid Row looking to score the good stuff. He hung out at needle exchanges with homeless people as he learned the ways of the heroine addict. He is quite candid about these details in episode 236 of “You Made it Weird”. His story is all the more tragic because one can’t help but believe there was something more his company could have done for him.
At the very least, it can be argued that the corporate world has the same responsibility to an addict as they have for an employee with diabetes. Like any other medical treatment, addiction recovery treatment can be rather expensive depending on the type and setting. It will often be done as in-patient treatment, meaning that there might be significant time loss from work. Time loss equals income loss.
It is equivalent to major surgery and recovery. Corporate responsibility, in this case, involves providing insurance that covers addiction treatment, and a return to work policy for the successful conclusion of said treatment.
Another thing corporations can do is to donate to nonprofits with a proven track record of facilitating recovery. Michael’s House profiles the top five nonprofits treating addiction. These are:
- To Write Love on Her Arms
- Faces and Voices of Recovery
- Gearing Up
- Legal Action Center
Putting People First
One of the things Wittels said in the afore mentioned interview is that he was able to perform the duties of his job at a high level, even when strung out on drugs. Still, one would think his coworkers would notice that something was amiss. If they did notice, they lacked the incentive to do anything about it. As long as the addict is functioning, then the team or company is still benefiting.
Functioning addicts can be the worst kind because they can hide the severity of their problem for a long time. Employers who are aware of the addiction will be less likely to act. That is what happens when we put the function before the addict. Corporations have to be made up of the kinds of people who care enough about functional addicts in their company to intervene, even when that person is still profitable for the company.
Take Responsibility for the Corporate Culture
What does success look like at your company. Do the high-rollers have an image of heavy partying with the free-flow of drugs and alcohol? Is every corporate function anointed with free booze and an open bar? Some industries are just known for providing a safe haven for risky behavior.
Irresponsible use of recreational drugs is considered a reward for the successful entertainer. It is not just entertainers. Successful sales people can easily get away with coming to work drunk or high, just as long as they keep selling. Politicians have been known to use illegal pharmaceuticals to help take the edge off. A company cannot act shocked when someone’s drug problem is outed, when drug and alcohol abuse is a known part of the company culture and industry norm.
Finally, every individual can help by developing a zero tolerance mindset. That means that we stop enabling the people we care about, and start insisting on treatment. We can move the needle of progress when we stop treating addiction as a moral failing, and start treating it like the medical problem that it is.