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Our country remains embroiled in one of the most deadly and costly public health epidemics in recent history. Over the last several years, the opioid crisis has taken tens of thousands of lives and forever changed communities and the lives of those left behind. While its costs are steepest for those struggling with the disease of addiction and their families, the problem cuts across our entire society.
It’s impossible to quantify the pain caused by addiction, but there are numbers that can give us a sense of the economic cost of the crisis. Research shows that the economic burden of the opioid epidemic hit $95 billion in 2016, with the vast majority coming from losses in the workforce due to overdose deaths. Another $12.4 billion of the cost stemmed from lost productivity. A separate study found that the opioid epidemic is responsible for 20% of the drop in men’s labor force participation.
The business community has been affected by these trends and has a role to play in helping our communities rebuild. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is in a unique position to help because of our ability to convene key voices from across the public and private sectors. We did exactly that last week when we hosted an event that brought together a diverse group of leaders in an attempt to forge greater consensus and collaboration.
We heard personal stories from those who lost loved ones and are now working to end the stigma of addiction. And we heard how businesses in several areas of the country are partnering with the public sector and community initiatives to combat the epidemic. Senior officials from key federal agencies, education entrepreneurs, health sector leaders, along with state officials and local business representatives, discussed opportunities to prevent addiction and stem the crisis. They covered legislative changes to increase treatment options and address drug tampering, state-based prevention initiatives, and private sector advances in treatment and education.
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.