Local health and law-enforcement officials came together Tuesday to talk about efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and address the challenges it poses for employers in the state.

The Greater Atlantic City Chamber partnered with panelists from the New Jersey Department of Health, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, AtlantiCare, Enlightened Solutions, Volunteers of America Delaware Valley and the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office to host the forum “The Opioid Epidemic and Its Impact in the Workplace” at Linwood Country Club. The panel was moderated by Press of Atlantic City Staff Writer David Danzis.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, New Jersey health commissioner and the event’s keynote speaker, called the opioid epidemic an emergency in the state.

Although the state has seen an 82% reduction in the number of prescriptions for opioids in the past two years, Elnahal said there have been 874 overdose deaths so far this year. There were more than 3,100 in 2018.

Elnahal said 75% of those addicted to opioids in 2019 started with a prescription.

A 2017 National Safety Council report stated that 71% of U.S. employers have been affected in some way by employee use of prescription drugs and 47% have experienced absenteeism or impaired worker performance.

Pat McKernan, chief operating officer of Volunteers of America, talked about how some employers she has dealt with have had workers overdose on the job, which has forced them to start thinking about providing naloxone training to ensure safety standards.

“They can’t have this kind of risk in the workplace,” McKernan said.

Robert Snyder, chief operating officer of Atlantic City-based Enlightened Solutions, which runs a detox center, a farm and a cafe, said a company can save $3,200 a year if an employee recovers.

Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler said he thinks employers also have an obligation to their employees. He and Suzanne Kunis, director of behavioral health solutions for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, both talked about the concept of providing programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the workplace.

Dr. Bradford Bobrin, medical director of addiction services at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, talked about some of the signs and symptoms of addiction in the workplace, which he said can be as subtle as taking frequent breaks and showing mood or attitude changes.

View Dr. Shereef Elnahal’s presentation by clicking here.

Photos Courtesy of John DiMaio Photography: