Initiatives From the United Methodist Church’s Wespath Pension Agency Address Opioid Crisis

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. In 2018, The United Methodist Church’s pension agency began its own work to address the growing epidemic.

Wespath’s Sustainable Investment Services division joined Investors for Opioid Accountability, a coalition of institutional investors that calls for pharmaceutical companies to adopt or strengthen their practices to mitigate risks related to opioids.

The denomination’s benefits agency started monitoring the issue from an investment perspective as the crisis escalated, according to Nick Abel, Wespath’s manager of Sustainable Investment Services.

“There’s been a top-down push to stay on top of emerging issues to care for the church and its members,” he said.

As part of Investors for Opioid Accountability, Wespath joins almost 60 other investment groups that oversee $4 trillion in assets — giving that group considerable influence with corporate boards. The group has engaged with 20 companies in the past two years, leading to such “wins” as Rite Aid — the third-largest pharmacy retailer in the U.S. — agreeing to produce a risk report, and Cardinal Health, a leading pharmaceutical distributor, separating the roles of board chair and CEO to improve corporate accountability.

“As we started these conversations with different companies, everyone — the pharmacies, the retail distributors, the manufacturers, doctors, insurance companies — was pointing fingers at each other as to who was responsible,” Abel said.

There was also a challenge in confronting the corporate philosophy that the main responsibility is to maximize shareholder returns.

But Abel said that as opioids have become a national issue, feelings have changed and companies are more responsive. He also noted an understanding that any short-term investment gain is not worth risks to the company’s reputation, potential legal consequences, or the long-term impact the opioid epidemic could have on the workforce and the economy.

“It’s hard for these companies to not recognize they have a role to play in providing a solution. The conversations are getting easier.”

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Source: United Methodist News