- Prescription opioids may account for 44% of the national decrease in men's labor force participation between 2001 and 2015, according to Opioids and the Labor Market, a working paper published this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. For this research, the Cleveland Fed examined U.S. workforce data and county-level prescription data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the relationships between opioid prescriptions and the labor market.
- The research also indicated that the employment rate for men dropped by 0.5 percentage points and for women by 0.17 percentage points with a 10% increase in the local prescription rate. The Cleveland Fed noted that the effect seems greater (0.7 percentage points) for white men with less education than a bachelor's degree and even greater still for minority men with the same educational attainment (1.01 percentage points).
- The Cleveland Fed also observed that a short-term unemployment spell did not increase the number of people abusing prescription opioids in its regions of study.
In 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, and in that same year, opioid abuse resulted in more than 47,000 deaths nationwide. Despite calls to action from the federal government, health professionals warn that the situation is still precarious.
Many HR professionals struggle with how to help workers — or are totally in the dark about the impact opioids have on their workplaces — while talent professionals in regions more affected by addiction and poor workforce participation struggle to fill open roles.
"Best case scenario, employers have updated their benefits and policies to limit coverage of opioids, expand coverage of alternative pain treatment and enhance payment for substance abuse and addiction programs," Shira Wilensky, national practice leader, health and well-being at OneDigital, previously told HR Dive.
It may not seem like much in the face of a national crisis, but optimizing health benefits to better serve employees' needs is one option for HR, as is training managers to talk to workers who may be struggling before their situations escalate. Other experts agree that providing an employee assistance program and creating a work culture that's recovery-friendly can help talent professionals retain workers.