Business Leaders Need to Be Concerned About Opioid Epidemic, Too

Business Leaders Need to Be Concerned About Opioid Epidemic, Too

The human cost of the opioid epidemic is staggering.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid overdoses cause 91 deaths per day. The number of opioid overdose deaths in Michigan went up 54 percent between 2015 and 2016 (and has tripled since 2012).

During my time as a registered nurse in the 1980s, the opioid epidemic wasn’t raging, but I saw my share of grieving parents in the emergency room. Learning that a young, promising life has been cut short is one of life’s cruelest moments. That is happening to families across the country and state every day. Overdose death doesn’t discriminate based on your job, your socioeconomic status or any other factor.

People you know or their loved ones are likely dealing with substance abuse disorders right now and it could kill them.

Today, I work as a sales manager for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, servicing clients on Michigan’s west coast. That’s why I was proud to be part of an inaugural Let’s Talk Health event held recently in Muskegon that featured a panel of local experts from health care, law enforcement, public health, and substance abuse prevention and treatment. Read more about the event here.

My biggest takeaway from listening to the panelists and other community leaders in the room is that this is everyone’s problem. It’s going to take broad, collaborative efforts with many people at the table to effect change and that includes the business community. Because of the epidemic, employers I work with on the lakeshore and elsewhere are dealing with absenteeism, workers showing up too sick to work, and escalating health care costs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the estimated lost productivity for people in the United States with opioid use disorder totaled $20.4 billion in 2013. Health care costs associated with opioid abuse totaled $830 million in Michigan from the same year.

Blue Cross is helping to address this issue by researching opioid use and prescribing habits. We’re working with the provider community when we suspect patients are “shopping” for medication because of trends in care that show multiple prescriptions written by multiple providers being filled by multiple pharmacies.

With a shared mission of ending the opioid epidemic in Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan FoundationThe Michigan Health Endowment Fund, The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and The Superior Health Foundation are jointly allocating $455,000 for the Taking Action on Opioid and Prescription Drug Abuse in Michigan by Supporting Community Responses initiative, which will provide grants to community coalitions around the state dedicated to ending the crisis.

We’re doing our part and we’re encouraging business and community leaders to educate themselves about the issue and to play a role in ending this epidemic. Read about the five actions you can take as an employer to protect employees from prescription opioid overdose from the CDC.

About the author

Sandy Ham is the Regional Sales Manager for the West Michigan lakeshore for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She is responsible for group business retention for seven counties and six team members. Sandy has been with Blue Cross for 28 years; 10 of those at Blue Care Network, a subsidiary of BCBSM. She is also a Registered Nurse with an associate degree in applied science from Ferris State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in management of health services from Spring Arbor University.

Read more about the opioid epidemic:

Photo credit: waferboard

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