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Broward Businesses Strategize Ways To Bring Down Opioid Abuse, Deaths

The effects of opioid abuse can go unnoticed at work.
The effects of opioid abuse can go unnoticed at work.

Deaths caused by opioid use across Florida increased by 51% from January to June 2020, compared to the same time in 2019. That's according to a state report from medical examiners and the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement.

Now an initiative started in Central Florida that aims to reduce opioid abuse and deaths — called Project Opioid — is expanding into South Florida counties.

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Project Opioid Broward is a new coalition of local business leaders, the faith community and philanthropic groups. Together, they want to strategize and implement educational campaigns and programs to try to bring down the number of opioid-related deaths by 2025.

Opioid statistics were at unsettling levels before the coronavirus pandemic began to hit South Florida in spring 2020.

Use of the painkiller Fentanyl has been becoming more popular. Now, we know in the latest statewide report that deaths caused by Fentanyl increased by 81% in the first six months of 2020, compared to the same time period in 2019.

Community organizations, like The United Way of Broward County, can feel those impacts locally.

Kathleen Cannon, president and CEO of United Way Broward, said she wanted to join the new Project Opioid coalition in Broward because she's seen the job loss, loneliness and isolation brought on for many in the area during the pandemic.

"We heard so many stories that some people didn't even know that their family member had an addict issue," she said. "That's one of the mechanisms that we'll do here. We're gonna talk about some of the early warning signs that we can educate families about."

In addition to solutions, and ways to start looking at the Opioid Crisis like a business plan, Broward business leaders also talked — at a meeting late last month — about getting rid of the stigma that surrounds addiction.

"When business leaders and and companies can talk about that with their employees, it opens up the conversation. It opens up the education about it and the advocacy," Cannon later told WLRN.

This collaborative to fight opioids is reminiscent of the Broward Business Council On Homelessness. That group formed in 2018 with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, which is also involved in this project, to get the business community involved with issues surrounding homelessness.

The health insurance company Florida Blue has been involved in that group. Now, it's also a leader in this new collaborative to fight opioid abuse in Broward.

Penny Shaffer, the South Florida market president for Florida Blue, said the instances of opioid abuse and death from opioids are hitting unacceptable levels, so involving more than just government or community groups in silos is the next step.

"If we help people truly understand — which means you've got to reach them everywhere — and particularly as it crosses all boundaries, engaging business in that makes so much sense," Shaffer said.

The official launch event for the Project Opioid Broward initiative is being organized with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance for the end of August.