NH chef hosting panel on how to help employees battling drug addiction

NEWMARKET, N.H. — We’ve learned over the years how the opioid epidemic affects all demographics and regions of this country. But there’s one industry in particular that’s dealing with more and more employees suffering from addiction: the restaurant business.

One community is trying to tackle the problem to better help those working in the service industry.

“This is a very cutthroat industry, to keep a business running and to keep a restaurant running, you have to be at the top of your game all the time,” said Kyle Semrau, the head chef at Riverworks Tavern in Newmarket, N.H.

Semrau, who has been sober for five years and has worked in the restaurant industry for nearly two decades, says it’s time to bring awareness to drug addiction happening behind the scenes.

“In 19 years, out of all the places I’ve worked, I’ve seen it all in every place I’ve worked,” he said. “People smoking crack cocaine right on the line or blowing cocaine in the bathroom.”

Semrau says it’s become even more competitive as a chef today with the rise of celebrity chefs and social media judging your every dish. “And they’re producing high-end food and then you’re trying to compete with these celebrity chefs, which is nearly impossible to do,” he said.

That’s why he’s hosting a panel at his restaurant to teach other business owners and managers about what to do if one of their employees needs help.

“So, in theory, it helps the person access resources sooner and it helps the business save money by not having to lose a good employee,” said Jessie Hurlbert, who works for the Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative, which helps people keep their jobs even if they’re addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Hurlbert knows first-hand how hard it is to get fired while addicted to painkillers.

“I was really just like shunned and isolated and alone to try to deal with this,” she said. “And within about a month I did end up using IV heroin.”

Now Hurlbert has been sober for two years and she hopes to help others learn about life-saving tools like Narcan, especially in the restaurant industry. Semrau hopes discussions like this at least start to end the stigma.

“It’s all about reaching out and finding the right person and finding that calm and steady in your life,” he said.

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