The Opioid Epidemic: A call to action
Let me tell you the story of Sean Hindman. Growing up, Sean loved to swim, skateboard, hang out with friends and most of all, play soccer. After high school, he earned his associate degree and worked as an electrical technician in his home town of Pittsburgh. When Sean was a teenager, he became addicted to prescription opioid painkillers, and spent the following decade in and out of rehabilitation. On Sept. 19, 2016, Sean Hindman fatally overdosed on heroin. He was thirty years old.
Sean’s father, John Hindman, has been a Leidos employee since before Sean’s birth. Not long after his son’s tragic death, John spoke with a young man who, thanks in part to Sean’s encouragement, overcame his own battle with addiction. This conversation reaffirmed John’s decision to become an advocate for preventing drug addiction, a crisis he rightly describes as “a tsunami threatening the very fabric of our society."
The opioid epidemic is one of the most urgent health emergencies in our communities today. It has been called the worst drug crisis in American history. According to a recent study, drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. The 2016 death toll likely exceeded 59,000, making drug overdose more deadly than car accidents in our country. In 2017, the number of Americans who will die from drug overdose will be roughly the same as the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars combined. Families are being torn apart, with children entering foster care at alarming rates due to their parents’ addiction.
If we’re going to improve these numbers, it has to start with compassion and open dialog. Opioids have been described as a “mass killer we’re meeting with a shrug.” Too many people live in denial about drug addiction. There’s a stigma attached to the issue that prevents awareness and education. Sweeping the issue under the rug may be an effective way to avoid uncomfortable conversations, but it’s also a dangerous trap that stands in the way of prevention.
As it turns out, John is not the only member of the Leidos family affected by the opioid epidemic—far from it. As the news of Sean’s death spread across the company, John realized he wasn’t alone. John told me he was stunned by how many colleagues, customers, and friends in our industry have approached him to share their own stories of loss due to opioid addiction. Why was he surprised? Because most of them have never told these stories publicly.
In a brave and poignant email, John challenged me and this company to take action. We accept his challenge. We’re exploring employee support programs and forums. We’re pursuing partnerships with non-profit organizations, including CADCA, an organization dedicated to building drug-free communities. We’re supporting the Chris Atwood Foundation’s efforts to provide addiction recovery support. We plan to support the Drug Enforcement Agency’s 360 Strategy through education initiatives to help prevent heroin and opioid use. We’re exploring awareness campaigns with our friends in the athletic community. In the future, we hope to leverage our technology and our business relationships to create practical solutions that help address the problem head-on.
Sean’s life and death matter. John is determined to turn his son’s story into a positive for others, and we want to help give him a voice. If we foster an environment that allows one person to feel more comfortable engaging, we will have made an important difference. We believe education is the key, and that awareness and prevention are deeply intertwined. If nothing else, we can be a conduit that arms others with important information about the scourge of addiction.
Finally, I challenge other companies to speak up as well. Our industry is fortunate to include responsible corporate citizens that do incredible work in our communities. I hope our peers will join us on this journey; let’s leverage our resources to advance this cause. As an industry and a society, let’s come together and talk about the changes that are needed. That’s exactly what Leidos will do.