How the Corporate World Can Help Addicts
America has been fighting drug abuse for decades, but the problem only seems to be getting worse. More people are getting addicted to substances, with only a small proportion getting treatment. Since 1990, fatal drug overdoses have more than tripled.
There are many reasons the so-called War on Drugs failed, but the crux was that it criminalized a mental illness. It disadvantaged people using substances, with many going to prison. Prison time and a criminal record made it more difficult to get jobs, which led people to deal drugs and continue the cycle of addiction.
Over the past fifteen years, there has been a shift in how addiction is perceived, with a wider understanding that it is a mental illness. However, while this has helped many addicts, the majority are still not getting treatment.
Part of the issue is that addiction has been framed as a personal problem. It is left up to individuals to get treatment. They need to do so regardless of their personal context and whether they have the time off from work or the resources to go to a good institution. This is in spite of the mountain of evidence that corporations have a lot to do with it. Pharmaceutical companies pushed doctors to prescribe opioids, lied about their addictiveness, and continued to saturate the market even when opioid addiction became an epidemic.
The pharmaceutical industry is not the only one at fault. Insurance companies have treated rehab as an indulgence rather than an urgent need. Healthcare providers have disadvantaged addicts. It is these systems that have made the problem worse in a time in which medicine is rapidly improving.
Playing the blame game does not help either. However, since it took systemic issues to cause the problem, it is going to take systemic changes to solve it. The corporate world needs to come to the party as it can play a huge role in addiction treatment without losing money.
Here are some of the ways the industry can help address addiction.
Access to Health Care
The most fundamental change that needs to occur is that people with substance use disorders need better access to health care. Currently, millions of people cannot get care because they cannot take time off work, cannot afford to pay for treatment, and are not referred for treatment by their doctors.
How can industry help? In the healthcare industry, medical providers need better training for working with addicts. They also need to know that the individual has options if they refer them for treatment. Corporate workplaces can start providing paid leave and assurances that people will come back to a job. A significant number of workplaces have done this and benefited, as productive employees loyal to the company return with a renewed sense of purpose.
Insurance companies also need to start providing better funding for long-term stays at treatment centers. Substance use disorder is a severe problem that impedes a person’s day-to-day functioning. Burdening individuals with high deductibles and copays when they go into rehab is unsustainable for people who are struggling to hold onto jobs.
Funding Modern Treatment
At the same time, addiction treatment needs to evolve at a faster pace. While the current models work for many people, they fail many others. The simple fact is that not enough resources have been allocated for research and development in addiction treatment.
The healthcare and pharmaceutical industries can profit greatly from improved treatments for substance use disorders. As with other illnesses, better treatment outcomes lead to higher adoption, with individuals and insurers happier to pay.
Corporations are best-placed to help address the substance use epidemic, providing access and funding towards treatment. They can do so without compromising profits, and it will in fact contribute to better productivity and a healthier workforce. While personal responsibility remains crucial, the problem will keep getting bigger until systemic changes are made.