The current opioid addiction crisis is a national tragedy. While fingers point in every direction, it seems everyone is doing their best to avoid any responsibility. The truth is, there is plenty of responsibility to go around. What this crisis needs is leadership from the top.
Back in the 1990s, I worked as Corporate Vice President of Communications for the largest casino company in the world and the leader in the expansion of casinos from the traditional markets in Nevada and New Jersey to riverboats and native lands across the country. Taking casino gambling to the people, instead of most of the people having to travel to the casino markets changed the dynamic. As availability and accessibility increased, so did the opportunity for gambling to fall into the wrong hands – those who had the potential to become addicted.
I believe there are similarities.
Who bears responsibility? For opioids, is it the manufactures of the drugs, or is it the doctor who prescribes the drugs or the hospitals where the drugs are prescribed? It takes all to create the crisis. Then, toss in the illegal markets for the actual drugs and the replacement drugs such as heroin. And, add to that law enforcement, and foreign suppliers who have an impact on access and punishment.
Who bears responsibility? For casino gambling, is it the casino properties where the games are played and the environment of carefree fun created, or is it the manufacturers of the more and more video-game-like electronic machines? It takes both to create a crisis. Then toss in the states’ participation through lotteries – the most financially regressive of all types of gambling.
Who bears responsibility? Isn’t personal responsibility a critical factor – don’t accept 30 pills, don’t take pills without pain, don’t shoot up, don’t waste a paycheck on a slot machine, don’t skip food for your kids to buy a Powerball. After all, it is a minority of people who develop a compulsion or a habit.
At the casino company, we decided leadership required responsibility. So, we created the National Compulsive Gambling hotline and funded the council that was established to help the minority of the people who played and would develop a compulsion. We funded the study of the science of addiction. We even lobbied governments looking to legalize casino gaming for laws that would require compulsive gambling responsibility in advertising and on the casino floor. Casino corporations took the lead. Product manufacturers, lotteries, governments and health care gladly followed.
In the end, that kind of responsibility was good for business because it helped the industry grow, but to grow responsibly. It helped people find the help they needed. It was humane and corporate at the same time. It was corporate public relations at its heart. It provided our company with a level of visibility and credibility that many competitors didn’t have, leading to greater success in obtaining new licenses in market after market. And, just as important, we didn’t just help people with gambling issues in casinos, we helped people with lottery, sports betting, online betting and backyard craps betting issues equally. We led the Corporate Responsibility parade.
I believe the same opportunity exists for the opioid drug manufacturers. I turn to them because they, like the casino companies, are big business with deep enough pockets to make the difference. Face the fact that what you produce is good for a clear majority of people who use it. But also face the fact that for some of your “customers,” what you produce can ruin their lives.
I don’t know what the corporate manufacturers exact role should be. But I believe they need to take a financial and visible lead. Doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, law enforcement, government entities, I am sure, will gladly follow.