Bill Hortz's picture

[Opioid addiction, overdoses, and deaths continue to be a major threat on family finances, careers, retirement plans, life goals and financial advisors can play a major role in helping clients through this crisis. Unfortunately, many advisors assume that their clients and families may not be affected by this crisis, but the numbers and scale of the problem suggest otherwise. The pain, and shame that some feel, living through the horrific realities of opioid addiction and its emotional and financial impacts on families, does not make them open up easily about their personal challenges.

An Ohio survey of financial advisers revealed that most advisors may not know when their clients or family members are financially suffering from addiction as only 56.5% received direct communication from clients impacted by opioid misuse. Without that communication, advisers believe just 1% of their clients have had finances affected by opioid addiction, even though statistically 1 in 13 Ohioans live with substance use disorder. 

To fully understand the scale of the problem, here are further statistics:

As to prescription opioid use, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in their opioid data analysis research that while the total number of opioid prescriptions dispensed peaked in 2012 at more than 255 million with a dispensing rate of 81.3 prescriptions per 100 persons and has been generally falling since, but we still remain in 2020 with healthcare providers writing nearly 43 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons (142 million prescriptions) in this country. A further caveat to those numbers is that dispensing rates vary widely across different states and counties and continue to remain very high in certain areas across the country. The CDC even provides a U.S. Opioid Dispensing Rate Map on their website illustrating the hotspot areas.

When it comes to misuse and addiction, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and their 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 9.2 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids and approximately 5.6 million had an opioid use disorder. 

And for the cruel statistics of overdose deaths, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that in 2021, there were over 106,000 drug overdose deaths with 80,411 reported deaths being opioid-involved making opioid overdoses the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in the U.S.

This opioid crisis creates significant effects on family finances and has larger economic consequences:

The previously noted Ohio Survey of Financial Advisers revealed that the median financial impact of opioid misuse/addiction was estimated to be approximately $35,000 per client per year.

On the larger consequences, a study published in National Institute of Health estimated that the economic burden of prescription opioid use disorder and fatal overdose in the U.S. was $1.2 Trillion when considering federal and state resources devoted to addressing overdoses and the costs estimated for health care, criminal justice, and lost productivity. As the report states, “Knowing the magnitude and distribution of the economic burden can inform public policy, clinical practice, research, and prevention and response activities.”

 The financial industry’s role in the opioid crisis:

Investment News did an editorial back in 2017 entitled Financial Advice Industry Has a Role in Opioid Crisis and stated that financial advisers stand on the front lines of the nation’s opioid epidemic.

“Clients look to advisers when evaluating treatment programs or putting in place a financial plan that supports recovery but doesn’t enable the addiction. They also look to financial advisers for emotional support: to be the voice of calm, reason and compassion in the midst of chaos and confusion. Unfortunately, the vast majority of advisers — 81.7% — have had no formal training in how to recognize and navigate opioid addiction involving a client or a client’s family member.”

To learn more about how advisors can help their clients and their family members through opioid addiction, we reached out to Cheryl Canzanella, a CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter), LUTCF (Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow), ChSNC (Chartered Special Needs Consultant) and Founder of Coastal Life Strategies, who’s personal experience of losing a husband to an accidental opioid overdose led her to become a leading advocate for opioid addiction resources, training, and support. Cheryl's impact also goes beyond her profound work at the intersection of financial advising and the national opioid crisis to extend far beyond traditional financial advising through advocacy and dispelling misconceptions in other key financial planning areas including transformative solutions for retirees through the proven mathematical application of reverse mortgages and support for families with special needs children. In this interview, we asked her questions to explore ways that the financial advice industry can proactively respond to the opioid epidemic.]


Hortz: What are the most important things an advisor needs to know about how they can best work with their clients who have an opioid addiction or has a family member with opioid addiction? What best role can they provide?

Canzanella: When it comes to helping clients who are dealing with opioid addiction, financial advisors need to be understanding and well-informed. Learning about addiction can help them talk about it more openly and help with planning for monetary emergencies. They are in a unique position to address immediate financial needs and challenges, such as treatment costs and finding outside resources that could help defer some of those costs, while also incorporating a client’s long-term financial needs such as retirement planning, estate planning, and educational goals.

Hortz: How is opioid addiction a more complex problem than other addictions?

Canzanella: Opioid addiction is a whole different ballgame. It is known as a chronic brain disease, which makes it super complex. Unlike other addictions, opioids rewire how your brain works, changing the paths in your brain that deal with feeling good, motivation, and decision-making. Remember, this applies to both legal and illegal opioids. If your body becomes accustomed to the use of opioid pain medication and the effects wear off, users may yearn for the good feelings to come back as soon as possible, triggering addictive behavior patterns. Once addiction takes over, individuals will stop at nothing behaviorally to continue to get access and use opioids to ease the pain of withdrawals and to feel a sense of normalcy, not necessarily to get high.

Hortz: How can advisors recognize and begin navigating opioid addiction together with their clients?

Canzanella: Advisors can start by being attentive to basic signs like sudden financial difficulties, irregular account activity, or unexplained requests for money. If they suspect opioid addiction, they should approach the topic with empathy and offer a safe space to talk. By collaborating with addiction experts and counselors, advisors can develop a comprehensive plan that addresses both financial and recovery needs. Open communication, connecting clients to support resources, and maintaining a non-judgmental stance are key to navigating opioid addiction alongside their clients.

Hortz: What kind of resources and support are available that advisors can help their clients tap into?

Canzanella:  When it comes to helping clients dealing with opioid addiction, advisors can definitely help them tap into some immensely helpful resources and support. For instance, they can do the research to suggest legitimate regional treatment centers that specialize in addiction recovery or point them towards local support groups where they can connect with others in similar situations. Recommending counselors who have dedicated knowledge and expertise on addiction can be a big help for the emotional side of things. Oh, and there are helplines and crisis hotlines that clients should be aware of and that they can call for immediate assistance too.

Advisors can also guide clients to healthcare pros who specialize in addiction treatment and let them know about local programs, workshops, and events focused on recovery. There are government programs out there that can provide financial aid and insurance coverage for treatment and some state programs like Ohio’s Department of Commerce Recovery Within Reach program which also includes training for financial advisors on how to take an active role in assisting their clients with opioid addiction. Non-profit organizations can be a goldmine of information and support too.

There are even online resources and apps that offer reliable info and tools. Legal support, family therapy, and employer resources like Employee Assistance Programs can also be super valuable. Bottom line, advisors can help clients find the right resources to support their client or affected family member’s recovery journey and manage the financial side of things too.

 Hortz: What kind of financial advisor training is needed? What are the areas of most importance for them to learn?

Canzanella:  Currently there is no firm element training that I am aware of and that surprises me. Training on substance use disorder, in general, can be highly valuable for financial professionals. With a comprehensive understanding of addiction's complexities, advisors can identify early signs, establish trust, and offer a safe space for open communication.

Training enables them to provide holistic assistance by connecting clients to resources, developing specialized financial plans, and collaborating with experts in addiction and mental health fields. Ethical considerations, long-term financial implications, and enhanced client relationships are all outcomes of this training. By addressing the multidimensional challenges, advisors can demonstrate their commitment to clients' well-being and stay intensely relevant in the evolving societal landscape.

Hortz: What have you seen as the biggest mistakes to avoid in working with families and external resources in supporting client opioid addiction needs?

Canzanella: First and foremost, avoid assuming that a one-size-fits-all approach exists and will work for every person or situation. Each case is unique and demands tailored solutions. Additionally, be attentive to family dynamics; disregarding individual needs and emotions of family members can hinder effective assistance. Maintaining confidentiality is key to establishing trust, so refrain from sharing sensitive information without proper consent.

Your professional approach here is to focus on Collaboration — failing to work with addiction experts, therapists, and support groups can limit the effectiveness of your support. Acknowledging cultural differences, such as understanding how cultural backgrounds influence perceptions and needs is essential for effective assistance. Always operate within legal and ethical guidelines, as ignoring these considerations can lead to unintended consequences.

While financial support matters, focusing solely on monetary aspects neglects the emotional complexities of addiction and recovery. Take time for conversations. Rushing through discussions about addiction or treatment can hinder understanding. Avoid pushing clients into decisions by providing them with information and guidance, allowing them to make informed choices.

Lastly, offer ongoing support throughout the recovery journey as addiction rehabilitation is a continual process that demands consistent assistance. By sidestepping these pitfalls, financial advisors can play a pivotal role in facilitating effective support for families dealing with opioid addiction.

Hortz: What is your best advice on how advisors can start building the right support services and approach to truly help their clients trapped in opioid addiction?

Canzanella: Start by gaining an in-depth understanding of substance abuse disorder, its causes, effects, treatment options, and the financial challenges it poses. Establish partnerships with addiction counselors, therapists, and healthcare professionals, just as you would with CPAs, estate planning attorneys, or LTC facilities.

This knowledge forms the foundation for providing informed and empathetic assistance. Cultivate empathy and a non-judgmental attitude. Clients dealing with addiction may face social stigma, so creating a safe space for open conversations is crucial. 


The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We operate as a business innovation platform and educational resource with FinTech and financial services firm members to openly share their unique perspectives and activities. The goal is to build awareness and stimulate open thought leadership discussions on new or evolving industry approaches and thinking to facilitate next-generation growth, differentiation, and unique community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors — Ultimus Fund Solutions, NASDAQ, FLX Networks, TIFIN, Advisorpedia, Pershing, Fidelity, Voya Financial, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines). 


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