The Opioid Crisis: Taking Action in the Private Sector

A bottle with a hydrocodone (the generic name for drug sold under other names by various pharmaceutical companies) label and hydrocodone tablets spilling out isolated on white background. Hydrocodone is a popular prescription semi-synthetic opioid that is used to treat moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone is said to be one of the most common recreational prescription drugs in America.

By Roger Krone

The conversation around solving America’s opioid problem is centered on public policy, but the private sector holds considerable levers of power. In October, President Trump declared a public health emergency. He stated that ending the opioid crisis will require the resolve of our entire nation, including the “mobilization of government, local communities, and private organizations.”

Unfortunately, we have not yet seen significant mobilization in the private sector. As we know, there’s a lot of work to do. The scale and urgency of the opioid epidemic are alarming. Many experts believe it is the worst drug crisis in U.S. history. Drug overdose claimed at least 64,000 lives last year, making it the leading cause of unintentional death in our country. More Americans died last year from drug overdose than the number of U.S. soldiers we lost in Vietnam. Millions more suffer from non-fatal opioid use disorder, and countless more will suffer if trends continue.

Improving these numbers will require our nation’s business leaders to respond. First, through awareness. Awareness and prevention are deeply intertwined, and open dialog is required to make progress. Many Americans are not tuned into the issue, but we should all understand how our communities are suffering. I urge my fellow business leaders to offer forums for our employees to talk openly, and foster workplace environments in which they feel comfortable seeking help. We should arm them with the information they need to make good decisions regarding the safe use of prescription opioids.

Unlike federal and state government, private businesses can mobilize resources quickly. We can initiate response efforts through volunteerism, and divert charitable dollars at our discretion, often with no structured granting process. This money can go toward sponsoring programs in the philanthropic community, funding public service advertisements, or partnering with academia.

We can also affect change on the treatment side by offering anonymous employee assistance programs, or altering prescription drug plans to increase access to non-addictive pain medication. Finally, we can harness American brain power, entrepreneurship, and innovation from the private sector to present new ideas and invent solutions.

At least to start, my company is pursuing these avenues through which change can be affected without the help of government. Other types of response may be possible, which is why we will continue to explore different ideas. If you’ve been affected by drug addiction, ask your company’s leadership to consider what steps they can take. In the absence of decisive action by government, the private sector must answer the call. I urge our nation’s business leaders to act quickly.

Roger Krone is Chairman and CEO of Leidos, Inc., a Fortune 500® information technology, engineering, and science company based in Reston, Va.

Posted April 9, 2018 in Vol. 8 No. 4 - July/August 2017