November 14, 2018

Report: Opioid epidemic keeps jobs unfilled

Photo/Grant Welker
UMass Memorial Health Care's Memorial Campus in Worcester. The hospital network is more aggressively targeting opioid addiction.

According to a new report, the opioid epidemic is costing Massachusetts businesses more than $2.5 billion annually.

The report from Boston public policy nonprofit Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said that figure comes from lost productivity and absenteeism and presenteeism.

That's not the only place where businesses are feeling the full weight of the epidemic, however. Healthcare costs related to opioid usage are estimated to exceed $2 billion, the MTF said.

The economy is improving and more jobs are being created, but the difficulty in filling those positions is exacerbated by the opioid crisis.

The total financial burden on the state is skyrocketing, with that figure reaching $9.7 billion in 2017.

Opioid-related deaths declined in 2017 for the first time with 2,069 after six straight years of growth since 560 deaths were reported in 2010. The state has been able to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions written by 51 percent since 2013, but data shows the state's population is already at a higher risk of opioid misuse.

According to MTF, Massachusetts has about 231,000 residents reporting mental health issues, 212,000 reporting suicidal thoughts and 467,000 reporting depressive episodes.

"When these statistics are viewed in the context of the number of people who binge on alcohol (1.6 million), report a substance use disorder (574,000), or need but are not receiving treatment for substance use (490,000), it is clear that the epidemic could continue to spread at any time," MTF said in the report.

According to the report, opioids have kept an estimated 32,700 people from participating in the state's workforce over the last seven years. Another 142,000 who have a job (4.2 percent of the state's workers) reported pain reliever misuse and an average of 18 more days off from work.

Of adults who report misuse of pain medication in the last month, 68 percent are in the workforce.

According to MTF, there is no room for more jobs to go unfilled, as rapid economic expansions and recoveries have driven the state's unemployment rate to just 3.5 percent in 2018, the lowest figure since April 2001.

"On top of that, for much of 2015 - 2017 there were more jobs available in Massachusetts than unemployed residents, a highly unusual and frustrating situation for companies seeking qualified workers," the report said.

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