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Opioids Impact Labor Force Participation

  • Published
  • 24 April 2023
  • Category
  • General

We recently posted a blog about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of over-the-counter Narcan nasal spray to reverse the effects of opioid overdose and save lives. We also published tips to streamline workplace drug testing to detect prescription and illicit drugs that can impair performance and increase accident and injury exposure risk.

At WorkCare, we support employers in the addition of naloxone (Narcan) to onsite first aid kits for use by trained personnel and the delivery of cost-effective drug testing programs. We also do our part to help prevent opioid use disorder by providing care guidance at the onset of work-related injuries – before physical discomfort becomes a workers’ compensation claim involving medical treatment and prescription pain medication.

In addition, our occupational physicians engage with local treating providers to facilitate safe return to work during recovery after an injury, while our occupational health nurses provide injury case management assistance and coordinate referrals to employee assistance programs that provide individual and family counseling services.

Labor Force Impacts

There is a growing body of evidence that employers should pay close attention to the impacts of opioid use in the workforce and solutions aimed at opioid abuse prevention and management. These impacts include fewer people who are qualified to work safely.

In a recent blog post, Brookings cites statistics that indicate the national opioid epidemic measurably reduces U.S. labor force participation.

“Opioid misuse can compromise labor supply in a variety of ways, including absenteeism, increased workplace accidents, and withdrawal from the labor force due to disability, incarceration or death,” the Brookings authors say. (The blog post was written by a team at the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, a partnership between Economic Studies at Brookings and the University of Southern California Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics.)

Evidence cited in by Brookings researchers includes:

  • Occupational injury statistics (2019 and 2021) that indicate U.S. industries with the highest rates of overdose fatalities also have higher than average injury rates for fractures and musculoskeletal disorders, which are risk factors for long-term opioid use.
  • A 2021 research paper that documents the negative effects of opioid use on long-term company growth and valuations. Firms located in counties with high opioid prescription rates were found to have lower employment and sales growth than companies located in regions with low prescription rates. Impacted companies invested more in information technology to compensate for labor force shortages than less-impacted companies.
  • A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Social Determinants of Health and Health Services that found an estimated 12.6 percent of the U.S. workforce, or about 21 million workers, received one or more outpatient opioid prescriptions per year, with private health insurance covering half of total medication costs.
  • A 2019 National Safety Council survey in which 75 percent of responding employers said their workplace was impacted by opioid use.
  • A 2018 report on occupational patterns of drug overdose deaths that ranked workers in the following industries as high risk for opioid-related mortality: construction; extraction; food preparation and serving; health care practitioners and technical health care support; and personal care and service.

We’re Here to Help

WorkCare offers 24/7 telehealth triage coverage, onsite clinical services, a nationwide drug testing network, and injury prevention and wellness programs to help employers sustain safe and healthy workplaces. Contact us to learn more.