Lucy Wolfe


May 16, 2018


Substance abuse affects families, businesses, and communities. Such a wide-reaching problem requires all of us to do our part.

Senator Rob Portman (OH-R) put it well in the Washington Post:

We all have a role to play in getting people off the sidelines and back to productive lives so they can live up to their God-given potential.

National Prevention Week,” sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is a week for “communities and organizations across the country come together to raise awareness about the importance of substance use prevention and positive mental health.”

Today, Wednesday, May 16, is specifically dedicated to the “Prevention of Prescription & Opioid Drug Misuse,” a crisis that the U.S. Chamber is committed to fightingwith the help of all stakeholders involved, our partners in the business community, and numerous policy changes in Congress.

Opioid abuse has had devastating effects on families and communities.

The U.S. Chamber brought together leaders from the public and private sectors in March to collaborate on finding solutions to this crisis. We listened to leaders from government, nonprofits, and industry and those impacted by opioid abuse to explore initiatives to fight the opioid epidemic and to help our nation rebound and rebuild from this crisis.

One family impacted by the crisis told their story at the event. Mary Winnefeld and her husband, Admiral James “Sandy” Winnefeld (Ret.), lost their son Jonathan to a heroin overdose.

"We are unfortunately members of a very exclusive club. It's a club of families who have lost someone to an overdose,” Mary Winnefeld explained.

After 16 months of recovery, Jonathan succumb to heroin addiction soon after moving into his college dorm in Denver.

Now, the Winnefelds, through their organization, SAFE—Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic, work with law enforcement, government, the medical community, and civic groups to learn about how to best fight the opioid epidemic.

While the opioid crisis’ human costs are tremendous – 64,000 opioid overdoses in 2016 – it has also had an impact on our economy.

It cost our economy $95 billion in 2016, and “could account for about 20 percent of the observed decline in men’s labor force participation.”

Following the March event, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue wrote:

It is clear that solving this challenge will require a comprehensive approach, with the help of local leaders in businesses. True to the can-do, take-charge spirit of American enterprise, businesses are already voluntarily taking on opioid abuse. Many are offering help and treatment—instead of an automatic pink slip—to employees struggling with addiction.

Any business can play a role in combating the opioid crisis, and the business community as a whole must play a role. The Chamber is committed to marshalling the business response and promoting greater collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Here’s what we’ve done since then.

Last month, the U.S. Chamber participated in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day by encouraging our members and partners to safely dispose of expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs.

Now, there is an effort to help communities fight this epidemic, as noted on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s blog:

Through a partnership with the Prescription Drug Safety Network, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and EVERFI are providing digital prevention education to high school students in northern West Virginia, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, all at no cost to schools.

This digital prevention course is designed to instruct on the basics of prescription drug safety, as well as the science behind addiction, refusal skills, how to identify the warning signs of misuse and abuse, and how to help a friend or peer in need.

On the policy front, it’s good to see Congress working on legislation and working to better understand and address the totality of this issue.

“The business community will join you in these efforts because they fundamentally understand that an economy that is attacked by addiction will make it very difficult for business at every level,” said Donohue in his commentary.

There is still much work to be done, and the U.S. Chamber is committed to doing our part to combat opioid epidemic.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid drug misuse, here are some ways to get help. These organizations are excellent sources of information about opiate addiction and may answer general questions about drug addiction, available treatments, and when to seek professional help:

About the authors

Lucy Wolfe