Most Addicts Find Little Tolerance in the Workplace

Corporate 'Disconnect'

Indeed, nearly one in four human resource professionals say their companies are less likely to hire a person in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, according to a survey conducted by the Minnesota-based Hazelden Foundation as part of its corporate education campaign.

"Our survey reveals a stunning disconnect in corporate America," said William C. Moyers, the Hazelden Foundation vice president for external affairs. "Enlightened beliefs aren't translated into the practice of directing employees into treatment, thanks to the stigma of addiction and a lack of knowledge about it."

Not completely so, said Richard Huff, who, as television editor, reported the O'Brien story for the Daily News.

"We are living in a world where people get multiple chances now," he said. "We'd be mortified [if colleagues knew we were in rehab] but we wouldn't be out of work. How many celebrities go in and out now? Robert Downey Jr. still gets work."

Decades ago, journalism and alcohol went hand in hand, but those days are long gone, according to both Huff and Kelly McBride, ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute.

"There's been a transformation in the industry when addicts were pushed into rehab and were fired," she said. "Plenty of them were very talented and brilliant people, but were asked to leave their newsrooms because they couldn't kick the bottle."

Today entry-level drug testing is standard operating procedure from businesses ranging from Home Depot to news organizations. McBride said she "peed in the cup" for a job at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

More to the point, said McBride, is whether O'Brien can be objective and provide "fair and accurate" reports on other stars who seek drug treatment. The show host also needs to retain his audience's trust, she said.

Regardless of the credibility issue, O'Brien's history of alcohol abuse in the public eye has thus far not been enough to sink his career.

"My prayers are with Pat," said Rick Kirkham, a former crack addict who worked for television's "Inside Edition." "He is doing the right thing to get back on track, and I hope his peers and the industry, in general, support him in getting back to work soon."

Kirkham, who has been clean for eight years, got multiple second chances before turning his life around and producing the award-winning documentary about his life "TV Junkie."

"Remember," he said, "even our president is a recovering alcoholic. His credibility obviously wasn't an issue in his election."

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