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Why businesses have a stake in solving the opioid epidemic

Reproduced from Krueger, 2017, "Where have all the workers gone? An inquiry into the decline of the U.S. labor force participation rate"; Note: Labor data is change in labor force participation (LFP) between 1999–2001 and 2014–16. Opioid data is morphine milligram equivalents (MME) prescribed per capita, 2015. All data is for adults 25-54; Map: Axios Visuals

The labor force has fallen significantly in places with high concentrations of opioid prescriptions over the past 15 years, meaning that employers often have a direct interest in combatting the opioid crisis.

Between the lines: As the economy continues to strengthen and more jobs go unfilled, the business impact of those out of the workforce and struggling with opioid addiction will become only more noticeable.

By the numbers: There's plenty of research suggesting that the country's declining labor participation rate — the number of people who are out of work and not looking for it — is intertwined with the country's opioid crisis.

  • The increase in opioid prescriptions between 1999 and 2015 could account for 20% of the decline in men's workforce participation over that same period, according to a study done by Princeton's Alan Krueger last year.
  • Almost half of men who aren't in the workforce take pain medication on any given day, and two-thirds of those men take prescription painkillers, according to the same study.
  • Counties with high opioid prescription rates have a labor force participation rate that is 4.6% lower for men and 1.4% lower for women than counties with a low prescription rate, according to a paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

What they're saying: Certain areas and industries are feeling the effect of the opioid epidemic more than others, even though the epidemic has affected families across the country either directly or indirectly.

  • "It affects businesses [to] the point where companies are struggling to fill positions ... because there are drug test failings on a rapid and significant basis," said Katie Mahoney, vice president of health policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, adding that industries like construction and manufacturing have been particularly affected.
  • "The bigger problem is those who aren't even showing up to take the drug test because they are not looking for work," Sen. Rob Portman wrote in an op-ed earlier this month.
  • "Our goal should be to get more people out from the grips of addiction and into the workforce where they can have the dignity and self-respect that comes with having a job. Businesses need to get more involved in finding solutions," Portman added.