The issue of opioid abuse in the U.S. workforce paints a bleak picture. The opioid epidemic took more than 42,000 lives in 2014. It is shrinking the American workforce. And workers with opioid-abuse issues are costing employers nearly twice as much in healthcare expenses as their non-using counterparts.
The problem was so dire in October 2017 that President Trump declared the country’s opioid crisis a “public health emergency.”
Now, however, there’s some good news.
According to a report by IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, opioid prescriptions dropped by 12% in 2017. This is the biggest decline in nearly 25 years.
Here’s a breakdown of the report:
- In 2011, opioid use rose to a peak of about 72 pills per adult. Usage has now declined to about 52 pills per adult.
- In 2017, about 23 billion fewer “Morphine Milligram Equivalents” were dispensed to patients
- Dispensed opioid prescriptions decreased by about 10%
- The number of patients receiving high doses of opioids declined by about 16%
As of 2017, Princeton economist Alan Kreuger determined that the increase in painkiller prescriptions over the previous 18 years led to a 20-25% drop in workforce participation. This figure was among workers between 25 and 54 years old.
But, if the latest trend of decreasing opioid prescriptions continues, the labor force could grow by 10,000 workers per month.
“The opioid crisis is still costing lives and devastating communities, but its impact on the labor market is at least beginning to fade,” said Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.
Congress is advancing legislation that includes proposals for tackling the opioid epidemic.
On April 24, the Senate Health Committee approved the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. Part of the bill would restructure grants that help states boost addiction treatment to better target hardest-hit regions.
Others bills would remove barriers to researching non-addictive alternatives to opioids.
However, despite the good news in the IQVIA Institute’s report, more work needs to be done. According to some experts, the U.S. will need to spend between $45 billion over ten years, or even “trillions” over a longer term, to properly combat the opioid crisis.
By companion, the U.S. spends about $100 billion every five years in addressing HIV/AIDS.
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