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September 3, 2018 Other Voices

Business community can play key role preventing prescription opioid abuse

Shawn M. Lang

Connecticut's opioid statistics aren't pretty. Residents are more likely to die from an overdose, whether from illicit opioids or prescription opioids, than an automobile accident.

Medicines that are valuable in relieving patients' pain are being overprescribed and misused, resulting in long-term substance use disorders and death.

The good news is that countless prevention efforts are underway. The progress was highlighted during a recent gathering of stakeholders representing healthcare providers, public health representatives, first responders, small businesses and other community members. We discussed ways we can better work together to support primary prevention efforts and how we can learn from each other about prevention best practices.

This collective approach is being facilitated nationally by Allied Against Opioid Abuse (AAOA). The convener of the roundtable, AAOA is helping coordinate a community-based response to the opioid crisis. They also provided attendees an array of resources centered on the rights, risks and responsibilities associated with prescription opioids as primary prevention tools.

These educational resources are aimed at preventing opioid use disorder (OUD) by generating awareness about the importance of safe use, storage and disposal of prescription opioids. About 40 percent of individuals who report misusing prescription opioids say they got them from friends or family members for free, so safeguarding these medications is an essential prevention measure.

In addition to promoting individual action, the event highlighted how the business community can get involved and help to educate their employees. Connecticut's small businesses want to get involved and help address the public health crisis. Using resources from AAOA or the state's Change the Script program, they can help to educate their employees as a starting point.

We also discussed resources to support employees who may already be affected by opioid use disorder whether personally or through a family member. The National Safety Council estimates more than 20 percent of the workforce may be using opiates non-medically. This means the effects of opioid use disorder — including absenteeism, lost productivity, accidents, attrition and higher healthcare costs — are already affecting Connecticut companies. The National Safety Council Employer Guide can help businesses get started in addressing opioids in the workplace.

Other event participants are eager to guide business and community efforts as well.

The Connecticut Opioid Overdose Prevention Work Group, Community Health Advocacy Forum, Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, University of Connecticut Health Emergency Medical Services, and city of New London are doing great work. Several workforce organizations, including IUOE Local 478 and the Connecticut Business & Industry Association are working to share prevention best practices learned from the session in the workplace.

These organizations deserve credit for their commitment to combating substance use, and we appreciate their sharing knowledge with our broad-based group of stakeholders. The ongoing collaboration we're witnessing is the best sign yet that Connecticut will soon beat the opioid epidemic once and for all.

Shawn M. Lang is the deputy director of Aids Connecticut and chair of the CT Opioid Overdose Prevention Workgroup.

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