FLORIDA  In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic is another threat, both invisible and growing in size. Opioid abuse has been an ongoing and prevalent issue in the United States for years, with overdoses and death creating an epidemic in healthcare.

Sharing Solutions, an organization partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, works to give company tools and resources needed to help combat the opioid crisis. A virtual presentation was held Thursday, Feb. 11 with Roger Krone, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Leidos, and Chad Jester, president of Nationwide Foundation.

Business owners and companies are working together to help change the way employees and employers can combat addiction together. This could range from education for businesses about abuse to what both employees and employers can do for those seeking help.

Although it may be easier to label drug abuse a morally compromising behavior, the attitude towards those who are seeking help for addiction and recovery is changing.

Jerome Michael Adams, American anesthesiologist and former U.S. surgeon general led the introduction of the discussion providing both academic and personal knowledge of the crisis.

"We have to understand that this epidemic, that was around before the pandemic It's still there and it's, unfortunately, going in the wrong direction," Dr. Adams said.

Dr. Adams stated that during the midst of the pandemic last year the U.S. saw a 100% increase, essentially doubling, opioid overdoses by cardiac arrest.

Dr. Adams knows first-hand the devastating toll addiction can play within the family.

"Like many Americans, the opioid crisis isn't just pressing, it's personal," Dr. Adams said. "My own baby brother, Phillip, served a 10 year prison sentence for crimes committed to support his addiction. He suffered from untreated mental illness and, unfortunately, turned to drugs to self medicate."

Dr. Adams message of action, he says, comes from the unruly nature of addiction and mental health disorders; targeting anyone at any time.

"I share my family's struggles to illustrate that addiction can happen to anyone in any family, even the brother of the United States surgeon general," Dr, Adams said.

One of the first major hurdles to overcomes is the shame people can attribute to those addicted.

"Stigma is a huge barrier," said Mr. Krone. "It's a label nobody wants. Nobody wants to be associated with something way too many people consider a defect instead of a disease."

Because of the wide-spread use of opioids and the high-risk of dependency and addiction, many families who have never experienced drug-addiction are seeing it take place in their homes. As a result, the U.S. has taken a more proactive approach to try and quell rising deaths.

One of the main efforts is to have the ability for overdose-reversing drug like Naloxone; an opioid antagonist that is used to temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone training can be conducted to help employees or employers become familiar with its use and distribution.

Because of the overlap in COVID-19 and subsequent increase in drug use, the opioid pandemic has festered while some employees have been isolated at home. Work and financial stress associated with both health crises have created a perfect storm for those struggling with addiction.

"The stress causes anxiety and the isolation of working from home can cause depression. Alcohol consumption is up, we believe illicit drug use is up," Mr. Jester said.

Mr. Jester, based in Columbus, Ohio, gave some disturbing local facts.

"In one weekend this year, unfortunately, we had 32 people die from fentanyl in 24 hours," he said.

Although some of the data presented focused on the loss of life, the greater emphasis was on solution for those fighting addiction currently.

"There are by multiplying factors and a lot more people are fighting addiction and even more at risk of addiction," Mr. Jester said.

Sharing Solutions also provides services for employees seeking help with lists of behavioral health treatment facilities, Narcotics Anonymous meetings in their area and other state-specific resources.

With a vast array of resources and large companies taking the lead on drug education and education, businesses are looking to lead the example in tackling stigma and aiding workers.

For more information, visit https://sharingsolutions.us/.

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