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Engaging Employers: Solving the Opioid Crisis in Virginia

Posted by Joe Antle on September 30, 2019 10:55 AM EDT
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Recently, I had the opportunity to attend two terrific programs on the same day at the same location-Slover Library in downtown Norfolk.  Both addressed the need to make bold moves now and on a sustained basis to win the war against the opioid crisis.  One was a wonderful lecture by Beth Macy, the author of the New York Times best-selling book, "Dopesick".  Riveting and well-presented, the evening lecture was quite enlightening.  

However, the other program, a breakfast meeting promoted by the Hampton Roads Opioid Working Group, in collaboration with Old Dominion University and the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce......

...was a strong call to action for the business community to step up and play a key role in the long term resolution of the opioid crisis and its ravages throughout the country, but especially in the southeast Virginia region.  It was also held at the Slover Library's main conference room.

The event was well done and included some noteworthy speakers who made a strong case for the role of the private sector, businesses and employers, to begin to leverage influence and resources to attack the opioid crisis, and all substance use disorder addiction in general.  Virginia's state attorney general, Mark Herring spoke.  As did Carolyn Weems, a member of the Virginia Beach school board who has led the charge to introduce curriculum changes to help educate the city's young people about the dangers.  Two ODU economists spoke, as did the commonwealth's attorney and others who have been working on the law enforcement aspect of reducing the distribution of legal and illegal opioids.

The resounding theme was that we need to now focus on the reduction in demand, now that there have been improvements in reducing, controlling and applying substantial penalties to the supply side of the opioid crisis.  This includes the 2,600 or so legal actions and cases filed across the country and the pending possibility of Federal involvement through a class action suit.

Despite the high quality of the program's contents and its presentation, there were still not many actual business leaders and employers, HR professionals and operating heads in the audience.  So, more must be done to get the right people on board and to provide them the solutions that they can bring to bear to help reduce the crisis impact over time.

There were a number of terrific messages, including the ODU research which pinpoints the economic damage to the state of Virginia to be in the range of $7.6 billion, and reduction to Virginia's gross domestic product of almost 2%.  The devastation is clearly of epic proportions.

I want to include language that was a portion of an op-ed piece that was published in in the Sunday, September 9th edition of The Virginian-Pilot.  The purpose of this article was to alert the readership of the serious impact of the opioid crisis and to announce this first-time summit to alert to businesses the impact of the opioid crisis and to begin to engage the private sector and all employers to become part of the solution.  This opinion was co-written by Zachary Terwilliger, a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and Bryan Stephens, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

The following excerpt (in quotations) from the op-ed piece synthesizes the issue clearly and is written by two powerful and authoritative leaders that have expertise in this area and whose words carry meaning.

" Addressing a crisis of this magnitude requires all community stakeholders to be part of the solution-our medical, educational, and civic leaders, including the business sector, can play a decisive role in addressing the opioid abuse crisis.  Those who manage a business know that a thriving economy depends not only on quality products and services, but on a labor force that is healthy, unencumbered by addiction, and living in a community where their families are safe and happy".

"One in three U.S. workers may have some type of substance abuse issue right now.  Investing in employee education, resources, and support programs help increase work productivity and reduces employee turnover and absenteeism."

"It is the wise business leader who recognizes that it is just smart business management to know more about this crisis, to follow best practices as informed by medical experts and to be part of a community determined to excel in dealing with this historic challenge."

In the end, "The goal will be to point local businesses to specific ways they can improve their bottom line by providing education and access to support for their employees."  And, finally, "When the history of the opioid crisis is written, America's businesses, with their ingenuity and initiative, will surely be seen as frontline players in the campaign to rid our communities of opioid abuse.  From courtrooms to boardrooms, defeating this epidemic will require all of us working together."

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