- The opioid epidemic is taking a severe toll on the Massachusetts economy that will have consequences for years to come, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF). Between diminished productivity due to peoples' inability to work, income lost due to fatalities and absenteeism and expenses built up in health care costs, the crisis has run up a bill of about $9.7 billion. A new anti-addiction nonprofit, Rize Massachusetts, funded the study, which its authors said is the first to assess the epidemic's economic toll on the state and the employers and healthcare providers within it.
- The study estimates that opioids have kept about 32,700 people out of the Massachusetts labor force in the past seven years, making it harder for employers to fill open positions. Lost productivity from absenteeism and presenteeism (which the study defines as reduced job performance due to an illness, injury or anxiety) in the state is likely more than $2.5 billion a year.
- Massachusetts is at the forefront of the epidemic, with the fourth highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the nation. The report shows that the opioid epidemic is having a major impact on Massachusetts businesses by making a tight labor market more challenging, and requests that business leaders get more actively involved to find solutions to the crisis. Key findings in the report show that: the crisis has transitioned from heroin to fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances, including carfentanil and other fentanyl-related drugs, which are 100 times as potent as fentanyl and 5,000 times more powerful than heroin.
Employers may not have grasped the extent to which opioid addiction has damaged their workforces and communities. The MTF lays out the costs in lost productivity in comprehensive details so that employers of Massachusetts can see the devastating effects the epidemic has on hiring, absenteeism and retention. Opioid addiction has forced an estimated 20% of men out of the workforce, according to a 2017 paper authored by a Princeton University economist. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 115 deaths due to overdoses occur daily, and, as the study stated, the epidemic shows no current signs of being over.
Shira Wilensky, national practice leader, health and well-being at OneDigital, told HR Dive recently in an email that one way employers are dealing with crisis is by updating their benefits and policies to limit coverage of opioids, expand coverage of alternative pain treatment and increase payment for substance abuse and addiction programs. Putting some controls on the accessibility of opioids can help stem the epidemic among employees in employer-sponsored plans.
The National Business Group on Health has encouraged employers to reach out to their pharmacy benefits managers and health plans to make sure they include strategies and rules that can better protect U.S. workplaces from the addiction crisis. Plans should require physicians to opt for the lowest effective doses when writing prescriptions and prescribe immediate-release opioids instead of extended-release or long-acting drugs when an employee starts therapy for chronic pain control.