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Research Shows Link Between Rising Opioid Prescriptions and Declining Workforce Participation Rates

The Addiction Epidemic - A Serious Public Health and Workforce Issue

According to the Center for Disease Control, health care providers across the US wrote more than 191 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication in 2017—a rate of 58.7 prescriptions per 100 people. In the same year, more than 11 million people misused prescription opioids.

More research has shown a critical link between rising opioid prescriptions and declining workforce participation rates, estimating that 'nearly half of men age 25 to 54 who are not in the workforce take pain medication daily and a higher rate of absenteeism among opioid abusers who work'.

The high level of substance misuse across the nation has shown to be a contributing factor in low workforce participation rates amongst young people and women, too. As a result, the addiction epidemic has been deemed to be not only a 'serious public health issue, but a serious workforce issue – one that employers must address to meet the challenges of finding and retaining quality workers'.

The Devastating Impact on Employers

In addition to absenteeism, substance misuse has proven to impact employers in a variety of ways:

  • Increased tardiness;

  • Increased disciplinary actions;

  • Increased employee turn-over;

  • Increased healthcare costs;

  • Higher safety concerns, accidents and legal liability;

  • Decreased morale and productivity; and

  • Frustrated managers and co-workers.

The CDC estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the US is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. It has been estimated that $1.5 Billion of this cost is incurred by businesses in the form of impaired productivity and absenteeism.

Employer's Responsibility

According to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), employers are responsible for understanding the nature of their workforce, the major problems and stressors that are affecting their employees, and the possible ways in which alcohol, prescription drugs, and other drug misuse may be causing or contributing to some of those problems. Armed with this understanding, employers are far more equipped to develop effective recovery responsive policies and programs that can meet the needs of their unique workplace while positively impacting their bottom line.

The Bottom Line

Across the United States, new strategies are being implemented to involve the business community in combating this epidemic. For example, the Kentucky Chamber’s Workforce Center developed the Opioid Response Program for Business in 2020 to be led by a task force of business and industry representatives.

The goal of this task force is to work directly with employers to help audit their policies and recommend best practices to maintain a recovery responsive workplace and culture. The program is the first of its kind in the nation, but other workforce boards are partnering up with their local business communities to create and implement similar models. The goal is to combat not only the impact of opioid misuse on individuals and families and the criminal justice system, but to build and sustain a quality workforce in order to significantly improve their economies and employer's bottom line.

How Recovery Business Association Can Help

The programs and services provided by Recovery Business Association (RBA) are aligned with these new strategies and aim to:

  • meet the challenges of finding, training and retaining workers amidst the nation's addiction crisis;

  • work directly with employers to audit their policies and recommend best practices to maintain a recovery responsive workplace and culture;

  • destigmatize the addiction epidemic and support employers’ role in substance prevention, treatment and recovery in the workplace;

  • stress treatment over punishment for substance users;

  • create local collaboratives with community and business leaders to develop solutions; and

  • support efforts to retain and hire people in recovery.

RBA's programs have proven to increase employment retention, increase productivity and employee morale, reduce health care costs and increase community engagement.


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