Business Community Comes to Grips with Opioid Crisis

BY KATHY KAHN

The Rockland Business Association on July 20 devoted its meeting at the Pearl River Hilton to the rampant abuse of prescription drugs and street drugs going on in schools, homes and the workplace.

“At a recent meeting with other NYS Chambers of Commerce, I was advised there were no formal programs regarding this issue on the agenda of any single one of the business organizations in attendance,” said RBA President Al Samuels. “I was told it was discussed, but no one suggested how the business community can participate in fighting this crisis. There is no formal program in place. The reason for this luncheon is to see if we can identify how we can help.”

Samuels spent the past two months looking into programs that deal with opioid abuse and attended a meeting at the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, a roundtable discussion held at Ulster County BOCES, with members of social service agencies, health departments and nonprofits, as well as the law enforcement community, who gathered to discuss the crisis and how to deal with it. All seven counties in the mid-Hudson region attended the meeting to discuss the growing use of opiods and pills being abused.

“Does the business community have a role in this issue?” Samuels asked members and guests at the luncheon. Many attendees felt there was a stigma attached to drug use. As a result, Samuels said there does not appear to be any input from the business world on how to combat the crisis.

In 2014, Scientific American reported 136,000 people were treated in hospitals for opiod abuse in 2010-—but only 13 percent of that number was prescribed narcotics. (Imagine how that number has dramatically increased since that seven-year-old study)!

The National Survey on Drug Use and Mental health found 75 percent of all opioid misuse starts with people using medications not prescribed to them—obtained from a friend, family member of drug dealers; 90 percent of addictions—no matter what the drug-start in adolescent and young adult years. Additionally, two-thirds of abuse stems from childhood trauma, and half of those who abuse narcotics have a mental health issue or personality disorder.

“In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies received FDA approval to make opiods readily available to those with chronic pain and end of life issues,” said Samuels. “Yet, 90 percent of all addictions start during the young adult years. It isn’t just a problem in poor communities or people of color. This epidemic has crossed all the lines.”

Member Jacob Busani told Samuels that seven of his friends have died from overdoses. “We need two different types of facilities for recovering addicts—one that helps them stay sober and another that encourages them to focus on their talents,” said Busani, “whether it is music, painting, poetry—and engage them in the arts.”

What can the business community do? Samuels and Marsha Gordon, President of the Business Council of Westchester, have discussed a way to get involved in the crisis. “We haven’t been able to identify anything specific yet,” Samuels said, who will meet with his Board of Directors to see if a summit can be arranged to deal with the crisis in Rockland.

As the crisis continues, the RBA hopes other chambers will join in the discussion. “We need to bring in the experts on how to guide us,” said Samuels. “Addiction is an illness, not a character flaw. We need to stomp out the stigma.”

Ruth Bowles, Executive Director of the Rockland Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependence (www.rcaad.org) based in Nanuet, said business owners should be trained in the use of Narcan. “People have died in the bathroom at the workplace,” said Bowles. “Opioid abuse is a much bigger problem than many want to believe.”