Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley was a vocal advocate for addressing the state’s blossoming opioid crisis during the administration of former Gov. Rick Snyder. Now as the president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, Calley has brought an increased focus on criminal justice reform issues, including policies affecting the opioid crisis. Calley spoke with MiBiz about the role small business owners can play in addressing the opioid epidemic. (This interview was edited and condensed for length.)
Why were you an advocate for action on the opioid crisis during the Snyder administration?
The overall numbers on addiction, prescription disbursement and the death toll were rising at such alarming rates that it just demanded action. At the same time our systems for care and dealing with addiction — be it criminal justice to treatment — were just being overwhelmed by it.
For me to get involved as intimately as I did with opioid addiction in particular grew out of the interest and work I had done over previous years in brain health. With developmental disabilities and mental illnesses being such an important and dear cause to me, it was a natural progression to work in addiction policy as well.
How do we address and help eliminate the stigma around opioid addiction and treatment?
A long-term, sustained effort is the only way to do it. You can’t turn it around in the short term. You can’t run an education campaign to win over everyone’s hearts and minds. You find willing partners to change things. There are places where important parts of the system are on board. What we ought to do is work with and support those that just get it already. I’d say a treatment-based approach in the criminal justice system starting with alcoholism has really resulted in a more substantial willingness among the rest of the law enforcement system to consider this and think about it.
Opioid treatment is a little riskier, and we should expect it’s going to be harder. It’s not natural for a court to sanction ongoing, long-term weaning from an illegal substance. One of the roadblocks has been that many drug courts do require complete abstinence. For people addicted to opioids over a long period, that’s often not the right approach. The weaning approach is the right way. That’s the mindset change that’s been a little slower.
How should SBAM members be thinking about this issue?
Small business owners are used to being part of the community and part of the solution to problems. It’s not a tough sell to say criminal justice reform and treatment is something we ought to be involved in.
The more specific tie-in is the workforce and labor shortages we’re experiencing. We can’t afford to have so many people offline not living up to their full potential. The labor rate is too low, not only because of addiction but partly because of addiction. If we can be a part of getting more people back in the workforce, we’re really helping ourselves while we’re helping other people.
How do you overcome the attitude shared by many employers that opioid addiction among employees is not their problem?
Keep in mind, this is pretty new for (SBAM). Just last week we adopted our first policy position on treatment-based approaches to the criminal justice system. The overall philosophy of taking a problem-solving approach as opposed to a purely punishment approach has been warmly, warmly embraced. The idea of having a vested interest and good life outcome for employees is a natural thing for small business owners.