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Tackling the Opioid Threat Together

Monday, July 1, 2019  
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Prescription pain medication, predominately opioids, can provide relief to people who’ve had surgery, traumatic injuries or chronic pain. But they can also disrupt and destroy lives when relief gives way to dependency.

Opioids in America are nothing new. Widespread use and abuse dates as far back as the Civil War when morphine was utilized as a battlefield anesthetic. From the battle front to the home front, many soldiers developed morphine dependency as a result.

Fast forward more than 150 years. In 2016, more Americans died from opioid use than have ever died in a single year from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), gun violence or car crashes. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths and 47,600 (67.8%) involved opioids, with increases across age groups, racial and ethnic groups, and urbanization levels. This is a nationwide crisis happening in sparsely and densely populated areas in virtually every state.

Nationally, Michigan ranks 10th for the highest rate of opioid prescriptions and 18th in the number of overdose deaths. In 2017, the opioid death toll reached 1,941 – nearly an 11% increase from 2016. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, in 2016, Michigan healthcare providers wrote 11 million prescriptions for opioid medication, enough to provide every resident a bottle of more than 80 pills.

In addition to the profound and painful loss of life, the opioid epidemic has had an undeniable impact on our economy. Between 2001 and 2016, the U.S. economy incurred $1 trillion in lost wages and productivity, federal, state and local tax revenue, and spending on health care, social services, education and criminal justice. Between 2016 and 2020, that cost is projected to reach $500 billion over the four-year period. The human and economic toll of opioids is staggering.

The number of lost loved ones and friends who have struggled with opioid dependency is sobering. In 2017, the epidemic hit close to home when I learned my friend and former colleague – Toby, who you will read more about in this month’s cover story – lost his battle with opioid abuse. I worked with Toby for years and didn’t know about his battle with opioids until he was gone. As I learned, many people are embarrassed to ask for help or admit they are facing a challenge.

As public health officials work to combat the opioid epidemic, community and health care leaders, including Blue Cross, are continuing efforts to address the threat through public awareness, collaboration and improvements to clinical care delivery. Blue Cross has seen notable results from their efforts. Between 2012 and 2017, there has been a 33% reduction in number of opioid pills dispensed and a 65% reduction in long-acting oxycodone and oxymorphone use.

While the epidemic has inflicted grief, caused frustration and anger, and left many feeling helpless – there is hope if we remain committed to solutions. As business and community leaders, it’s our duty to tear down the stigma around opioid and drug abuse. By raising awareness through education and open communication, we can provide the support and resources our friends, neighbors and colleagues need and deserve.

At the end of the day, we’re all human. Talking and working through these tough issues together may be the most important and life-saving role we can play.

Eric Dimoff is the vice president of marketing and communications at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Click here to download the August edition of FOCUS.

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