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U.S. Surgeon General Enlists Employers in Fight Against Opioid Epidemic

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Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams
Surgeon General of the United States

U.S. surgeon general Jerome Adams in April 2018 urged employers to help in fighting the opioid epidemic. He was speaking at a conference sponsored by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), an association of large employers.

Adams estimates that 2.1 million people in the U.S. are struggling with an opioid-use condition. While these drugs can be helpful for a short time, they pose serious addiction risks. Common opioids include areoxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and methadone.

Surgeon general Adams noted upon his confirmation in 2017 that addressing the opioid epidemic along with untreated mental illness would be two of his key priorities. In April 2018, he urged Americans who are at risk of overdosing on opioids, as well as their family and friends, to carry an over-the-counter antidote to help combat rising fatalities.

Adams endeavors to enlist the support of employers as they have control over much of prescribing and can require health providers to tell employees about the associated dangers. And employers are listening: conference sponsor NBGH’s Large Employers’ 2018 Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey (members-only access) found that 80 percent of big employers are concerned about the abuse of opioids.

Adams encouraged attendants to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. For example, current guidelines include implementing a three-day limit on opioid prescriptions for initial pain treatment (the probability of addiction increases on the fourth day). Furthermore, CDC has found that best-practice providers are offering supplementary services, such as personalized diagnosis, assessment and treatment planning; access to non-opioid medications; behavioral health treatment; ongoing disease management assistance; care coordination for co-existing diseases and disorders; and peer support services such as mutual-aid groups.

The fight against opioid abuse in the U.S. is a national priority that has broad political support and employers have a key role to play. The question is, what exactly is the least that must be done, and what are the consequences of inadequate action?

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