POINT OF VIEW: We need community-based solutions to fight drug abuse

If you think drug misuse and abuse doesn’t affect the business community, think again. From 2000 to 2010 there was a dramatic increase in opioid addiction statewide, with Broward County having the highest number of consequences. Unfortunately, the problem still persists today with 401 hospital admissions for opioid overdoses in Broward County during 2013, the most current reporting year. Among these patients 83 percent did not have a diagnosis of an opioid dependency and were considered to be legally prescribed users of these medications.

It’s an escalating problem spreading to all corners of our state and does not discriminate based on socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, and ages. 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, our Florida policymakers have made huge strides to combat drug abuse and overdose, 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.

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 HR professionals 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 together to listen to our community and find solutions to this issue.

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

Nationally, only 3 percent of physicians are currently 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 this is a 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.


Editor’s note: Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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