Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Opinion

Column: Businesses must help fight drug abuse

If you think drug misuse and abuse doesn't affect the business community, think again.

In Pinellas County over the course of 2010, deaths were reported with oxycodone present or as a cause of death every 36 hours. It's an escalating problem spreading to all corners of our state, and it does not discriminate based on socioeconomic level, ethnicity or age. The business community in Florida is no different and has been severely impacted by prescription opioid abuse in particular.

Addiction transforms hard-working Americans into disrupted and unproductive employees functioning at about two-thirds of their capability. According to a study, the abuse of prescription opioids cost U.S. businesses more than $25 billion in 2007. This is an issue that our business community must prioritize to ensure our employees remain healthy and productive.

Over the years, Florida policymakers have made huge strides to combat drug abuse and overdoses, including: establishing a more stringent prescription drug monitoring program; making the anti-overdose medication, Naloxone, more readily available; shutting down pill mills across the state; and expanding the availability of opioids with abuse-deterrent properties. These strides have directly saved thousands of lives and are vital tools against drug abuse.

But unfortunately, the problem persists.

Sixty-seven percent of human resources professionals believe that addiction is one of the most serious issues they face in their company. Yet only one in five say their company openly and proactively deals with employee addiction issues. This statistic is staggering when there are an estimated 500 million workdays lost annually due to addiction problems.

It is time that employers unite to listen to our community and find solutions.

In a recent study, 97 percent of St. Petersburg residents said they would be likely to suggest that someone they know suffering from opioid addiction seek treatment. Yet only one in five respondents said they were very confident that they know where to send someone for treatment.

Nationally, only 3 percent of physicians are qualified to treat opioid addiction in an office-based setting with certain medications.

Under the provisions of the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000, physicians who have completed appropriate training or meet other qualifications are able to obtain a federal waiver to provide Medication Assisted Treatment in an office-based setting. This process includes a medication combined with counseling and behavioral therapy.

The survey demonstrated that our community overwhelmingly agrees that an increase in local certified physicians who are qualified to treat opioid addiction within their office would reduce the number of opiate overdoses.

Drug abuse requires many solutions from the national, state and local perspective. Increasing our arsenal of resources to include unique community-based solutions will help our employees, businesses and our communities.

We can't do this without the help of our local physicians and our neighbors. We must first educate our neighbors that there is this local option for those suffering from addiction. We must also open the lines of communication with our physicians and encourage those who are not already certified to become certified to offer Medication Assisted Treatment in an office-based setting. This will provide our neighbors with a community-based treatment option with a local physician they know and trust.

Florida and the state's business community cannot afford the continued spread of drug abuse throughout the state, and we must make all efforts to curb this problem. Our communities must unite and address this problem with community-based solutions to ensure our employees maintain healthy and productive lives.

Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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