Minnesota’s corporate leaders join fight against opioids

September 18, 2018

Support from the business community has been a missing piece in Minnesotas fight against the opioid epidemic, but state leaders believe a new partnership will address that by giving addicts more workplace support so they can keep their jobs while getting help.

The Minnesota Business Partnership on Tuesday presented a tool kit that will encourage employers to create recovery-friendly workplaces and reduce the stigma of addiction among employees.

Businesses need to help stem the increase in opioid overdose deaths in Minnesota, which have risen sevenfold since 2000, but also should protect and retain workers in an increasingly challenging labor market, said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the partnership, which represents Minnesotas largest corporations.

Employers are desperate for workers, he said, and we want to take care of those workers and help them when they need help.

The tool kit will be distributed among the 120 members of the partnership, including Target, Medtronic and 3M, who employ nearly a quarter of the states workforce. Its strategies include reducing stigma so that workers feel comfortable seeking treatment and dont fear that it will automatically cost them their jobs.

Doctors from Allina and HealthPartners joined in Tuesdays announcement, noting the importance of supportive employers who invite workers back to their jobs after treatment.

It was easy at one point to imagine that they were homeless people or people who were on the margins of life, said Dr. Paul Goering, Allinas vice president of mental health and addiction services. But thats not true.

Preliminary figures for 2017 show 694 deaths in Minnesota from drug overdoses, including 401 that involved opioids. The total overdose number exceeds fatalities from car wrecks, said Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, which joined the business group in Tuesdays announcement.

Deaths of despair and disconnectedness are on the rise, she said, referring to people who have died from overdoses or suicides. This is an all-hands-on-deck public health crisis.

Non-drug alternatives

The rise in opioid overdoses coincided two decades ago with doctors overprescribing of narcotics such as oxycodone to treat pain. Doctors have become more conservative in opioid prescribing in recent years, but the death numbers have continued rising as prescription pill abusers switched to more potent synthetics such as fentanyl or illicit forms such as heroin.

Its up to us to fix this, said Dr. Art Wineman, a regional medical director for HealthPartners, but we cant do it alone.

Weaver said employers will need to ensure the privacy of their employees while creating workplaces that are more tolerant and open to those struggling with addictions.

One criticism has been that workplace health plans liberally cover prescription medications, but not alternatives such as physical therapy and pain psychology that can prevent workers from starting on prescription opioids.

While the tool kit didnt specifically address that benefits issue, Weaver said that is absolutely on the table as employers engage in confronting the epidemic.

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