First-Ever Reports Show Profound Impact of Opioid Epidemic on Massachusetts Economy, Workforce, and State Budget

December 20, 2018

Two reports commissioned by The RIZE Massachusetts Foundation, an independent nonprofit foundation committed to achieving zero stigma and zero deaths related to opioid use disorder, show that the opioid epidemic is taking a profound toll on the state’s economy, workforce and state budget.  The reports, the first of their kind, also provide recommendations on how employers can help employees with opioid addiction by increasing access to treatment and recovery.

“Our economy and workforce are strong today, but as these reports show, the opioid overdose epidemic is having an increasingly negative impact on our businesses, employees, and state budget.  Over time, these impacts will threaten our financial stability and ability to compete in the global marketplace,” said Julie Burns, executive director of RIZE Massachusetts.  “The results of these reports make the case that businesses should create recovery-friendly workplaces that will save lives and contribute to ending the human and economic toll caused by this epidemic.”

One report, The Massachusetts Opioid Epidemic: An Issue of Substance, was produced by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a business-backed public policy organization focused on state and local fiscal, tax, and economic policies. The full report can be read here.

The report brings forward first-time data on the negative economic impacts caused by opioid use disorder, including:

  • Opioid use disorder cost Massachusetts businesses $4.7 billion in 2017 in lost productivity, presenteeism (going to work despite being unable to fully function), and excess health care costs.
  • Massachusetts’ gross state product, a measure of economic output, would have been 12 percent higher than actual growth if not for opioid-related losses in productivity.
  • The opioid epidemic cost the state budget more than $1.8 billion in areas like the Department of Public Health, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Children and Families, and the criminal justice system.
  • Opioid use disorder cost the health care system in Massachusetts nearly $1 billion in 2017.
  • Opioid use disorder is costing municipalities across the Commonwealth more than half a billion dollars a year in first-responder and opioid-related police costs.

“By exploring and explaining the economic and fiscal impacts of opioids on the state, we hope this report catalyzes greater urgency and engagement from all segments of our society in the battle against the scourge of this epidemic – particularly among Massachusetts employers,” said Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

The other report, Opioids in the Workforce, was produced by the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.  It provides data on the impact of opioid use disorder on the Massachusetts workforce and provides a set of recommendations for employers.  The full report can be read here.

The Opioids in the Workforce report shows that:

  • Employers mistakenly believe that opioid use disorder has a small impact on the employed population. However, 55 percent of people with opioid use disorder are full-time employees and 37 percent are on their employers’ commercial insurance.
  • Stigma is a major impediment to employees struggling with opioid use disorder taking advantage of employee benefits that could assist them and to companies creating a workplace conducive to long-term recovery.
  • Half of white men 25 to 54 years old who were out of the labor force report chronic pain and daily use of opioid pain medications.

Opioids in the Workforce includes specific employer recommendations, including:

  • Engage senior leadership in supporting a stigma-free and recovery-friendly workplace.
  • Apply careful analysis and attention to the unique needs of each workplace.
  • Engage with health plans and treatment providers to influence the quality of treatment provided to employees with opioid use disorder.
  • Eliminate barriers to treatment by removing co-pays and prior authorization for medicines and counseling related to opioid use disorder.
  • Work with prescription benefit managers to help limit access to opioids and identify problematic prescribing patterns.

“Employers can play a unique role in addressing the opioid crisis in Massachusetts,” according to one of the report authors Constance Horgan, ScD., Professor and Director at the Institute of Behavioral Health, Brandeis University. “This study provides employers with examples of ways to implement and improve effective approaches.”