by Andrew Moreau – Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
January 19, 2020
The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce used its biggest forum — its annual statewide meeting in November — to launch a new initiative to help businesses battle opioid addiction.
It seemed an odd connection at the time — developing economic opportunities across Arkansas
Now comes evidence that building economies and providing jobs helps communities avoid opioid-related deaths.
The American Medical Association in its JAMA Internal Medicine journal published findings on Dec. 30 that noted automotive plant closures from 1999-2016 were associated with increases in opioid overdoses. “These findings highlight the potential importance of eroding economic opportunity as a factor in the US opioid overdose crisis,” the study reported.
Five years after a plant closed, the study noted that there was an 85% increase in overdose deaths compared with areas where auto manufacturing was thriving. The study was conducted in 112 manufacturing counties, primarily in the South and Midwest.
Arkansas is taking care of business by working to improve economic conditions. Over the past five years, companies have committed more than $10 billion in new capital investments to Arkansas, according to state economic development officials.
To battle opioid addiction and its impact on businesses, the state chamber joined forces with Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care.
Their Together Arkansas coalition promotes a proactive approach to battling problems created by opioid use, not waiting until the economy worsens and unemployed workers turn to the drug to ease the pain of having lost a job.
Together Arkansas encourages private businesses to collaborate to improve public health and battle declining worker productivity and ever-increasing health care costs. The public-awareness effort is centered on a robust marketing campaign to promote practices that help businesses and their employees navigate the crisis.
The problem is crippling businesses — Arkansas is tied for the state economy most damaged by the opioid crisis, the coalition reports.
In Arkansas, 43,400 workers were taken out of the labor force because of opioid use from 1999-2015 and an estimated 574 million work hours were lost. The state economy lost $33.5 billion in productivity because of the problem.
Nationwide, statistics show that 75% of employers have dealt with opioid use in the workplace. Insurance provider The Hartford reports that 56% of small businesses say they have been affected or expect to be affected by opioid use.
Since launching two months ago, coalition partners have used their business networks, especially local chambers of commerce, to spread word about the effort. Coalition leaders have met with other organizations fighting opioid abuse to build a united approach: the Arkansas Drug Director, the Attorney General’s Prescription Drug Summit and the Arkansas Department of Health among others.
Together Arkansas provides employers with detailed information about legal and operational issues that need to be considered when dealing with a worker’s opioid use.
There is a five-module video course that can be completed in just more than an hour. The group is working on a sixth module focusing on recovery and the support that can be provided to employees battling addiction.
The courses and more information is available at togetherarkansas.com.