Thought Leadership

Business Leaders Need to Take Action to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

Richard Ehst
President and Chief Operating Officer of Customers Bank

opioid crisis

Business and community leaders tend to focus on the livelihood of their respective organizations, and may not be aware of external influences affecting team members and the community. The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing issues facing our local communities and the country.

Customers Bank cares deeply about the health of our team members, neighbors and the communities in which we live and work. This concern shapes the products and services we offer to help strengthen businesses and the region. It is also a driver in identifying the causes we support through investments and donations.

Business leaders have an obligation to take action against influences that negatively impact team members, neighborhoods and the nation. According to information from the U.S. Senate, previous estimates have significantly underestimated the economic impact of the opioid crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data stating the total economic impact of opioid-related fatalities in Pennsylvania from 2012 through 2016 was $142 billion.

The economic impact is huge, but we cannot lose sight of the effect this epidemic is having on individual’s lives. According to the Philadelphia Fed, there are numerous unquantifiable effects of the opioid epidemic. These range from the pain and suffering families go through to a decrease in the quality of life for individuals suffering from the chronic disease of addiction. There is also the loss of life and income that goes along with fatal overdoses. In addition, the Philadelphia Fed also addressed decreased property values, as well as a loss of community well-being and safety.

Customers Bank is concerned about the opioid epidemic and understands it can be difficult to make meaningful contributions as a single entity. However, the opioid epidemic is not something that can be addressed by first responders alone: businesses have an active role to play. Healthcare and treatment providers have been on the front lines addressing this national health crisis for years. It is time for businesses and community leaders to stand up, get involved and take action.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in conjunction with the PA Chamber of Commerce and Greater Reading Chamber Alliance recently conducted a Sharing Solutions: Eastern Pennsylvania Opioids and the Workforce program. The purpose of the program was to further the conversation and increase awareness about how business leaders can support addiction treatment and solutions to end the opioid epidemic. Customers Bank was honored to participate in the event alongside representatives from Leidos, Sandoz, Kroger Health, iHeartMedia, Caron Treatment Centers and the Council on Chemical Abuse.

Representatives participating in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s program stressed the importance of focusing on approaches that increase awareness, address prevention and best practices for treatment and recovery. Below are several meaningful actions discussed during the program that business leaders should take.

  • Businesses need to partner with government agencies, community organizations and treatment centers to increase awareness regarding associated risks, alternative pain management strategies and the transformative power of addiction treatment and recovery.
  • Companies should host benefit awareness programs to explain the breadth of services provided and how team members can access them when they are needed most.
  • Businesses should work with benefits providers to limit opioids prescriptions to a seven day supply. Participants shared that dependency on opioids can develop in as few as ten days and only through careful monitoring by a doctor should prescriptions be renewed.
  • Addiction is a chronic disease and much like diabetes or arthritis, it requires ongoing management and a commitment to recovery. Businesses need to create an environment where team members feel comfortable addressing the need for help and staying active in their commitment to recovery.
  • Treatment can and should be tailored to an individual’s specific needs and circumstances. Business leaders can support access to treatment in several ways including by contributing funding, working with government leaders to influence change, or advocating for comprehensive healthcare payment models.

The good news is that progress has been made. Awareness of the health crisis has increased and legislative and legal action has been taken. Providers like Caron Treatment Centers continue to advocate for quality, comprehensive treatment and the rights of patients and families.

But more work needs to be done. I applaud the efforts being made by Berks County Opioid Task Force, Caron Treatment Centers and the Council on Chemical Abuse right here in Berks County. Local businesses should be working with these and other organizations to help residents.

As a community-focused bank, Customers Bank goes beyond providing financial products and services to personal and business clients. The Bank takes an active role in supporting the neighborhoods and communities we serve. This community focus is part of our founding principles and takes many forms including charitable donations, sponsorships, volunteering, support for community organizations and programs, as well as bringing awareness to issues that impact our communities.

Now is the time to take action. Get informed, spread awareness and engage with the community to help end the opioid epidemic.