Business community recommends ways to address opioid crisis in letter to policymakers from five state chambers

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson, along with executives from the Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia chambers of commerce, recently signed on to a joint letter to state and federal policymakers with recommendations on how best to address the opioid crisis.

The letter iterates the business community’s commitment to solving the opioid epidemic, which has rapidly evolved from a public health issue to the human capital crisis of our time—with dire effects for economic growth in our region, which has been hit particularly hard by drug abuse.

The letter follows the Kentucky Chamber’s December roundtable on the opioid crisis and our workforce. The event, which was co-hosted by pharmaceutical manufacturer Alkermes, brought together leaders from the business, health care and treatment communities with public sector officials to discuss the impact of opioid addiction on economic development.

Adkisson and his colleagues recommend shifting America’s approach to opioid addiction to focus on treatment with an end goal—ensuring that patients in recovery return to healthy, productive lives, and ultimately, reenter the workforce. To do this, “the business community must combat the stigma around addiction and treat it like the chronic disease that is—with compassion, support and most importantly, evidence-based treatment,” according to the letter.

The chambers recommend policymakers adopt a collaborative approach with the business community focusing on four key areas: promoting education and prevention, helping current employees seek treatment, advocating for treatment with an end goal and encouraging reengagement with the workforce.

One policy solution is establishing qualifications for facilities that meet these goals, and designating them as Certified Opioid Recovery Centers (CORCs)—specifically in the communities most severely impacted by illicit drug use and addiction.

Another policy approach discussed during the roundtable is the creation of a national prescription drug monitoring program to prevent abuse before it starts and connect patients with treatment when needed.

Medical experts consistently underscore that addiction is not a one-size-fits-all chronic disease, so effective treatment must be tailored to patients’ individual needs.

In many ways, Kentucky and its surrounding states are ground-zero for this workforce and economic development crisis. As untreated or undertreated addictions drive employees from the workforce, many end up relying on public assistance programs. Income tax revenue declines, while dependency on state programs rises, creating unsustainable budgetary constraints.

Further, as the Kentucky Chamber noted in its 2017 Workforce Participation Report, substance abuse and addiction are contributing factors to record low workforce participation rates in the state. These factors all combine to undermine Kentucky and our larger region’s ability to attract the next generation of employers.

The Kentucky Chamber plans to continuing to work with policymakers and colleagues in the region to turn the tide on opioid addiction and ensure that more individuals can return to the workforce and the freedom of gainful employment.

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