October 11, 2023
Opioids are used for pain management and include prescription drugs such as morphine, methadone, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl. They are also extremely addictive, making it more likely for individuals to experience overuse and potential addiction of these medications. The nation’s opioid crisis was officially declared a “public health emergency” in 2017, underscoring recognition of the devastating impact of this growing epidemic.
National overdose deaths related to opioid misuse have risen since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates over 100,000 people in the U.S. have died from drug overdose in 2021 (most recent year for which data is available), over 80,000 of which involved opioids. In addition to the immense societal toll, substance use disorder related to opioids has specific ramifications for employers and employees. Among employer challenges are higher health care costs, lost productivity costs, excess medically related absenteeism and disability costs, as well as caregiver and dependent costs.
Policy makers should:
- Require providers to follow CDC guidelines for chronic pain management;
- Ensure that government policy and programs support prevention of abuse/misuse of prescription opioids;
- Enhance Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs);
- Establish mandatory Continuing Medical Education (CME) for opioid prescribing;
- Establish evidence-based guidelines for opioid initiation for acute pain;
- Increase prescription drug take-back efforts;
- Mandate e-prescriptions for opioids; and
- Require detailed communication guides by manufacturers.
WHY IT MATTERS
- According to the Business Group on Health’s 2024 Large Employers Health Care Strategy Survey, employers continue to see an increase in mental health and substance use disorder (MH/SUD) needs as a lingering effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas last year, 44% of employers saw an increase in these MH/SUD needs, this year, 77% of employers reported an increase, with another 16% anticipating an increase in the future.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the total "economic burden" of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $1.02 trillion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement (CDC, 2021).
- For employers, the estimated cost impact of lost productivity due to opioid use disorder is estimated to be between $21-$26 billion, attributable to absenteeism, disability, and other costs (Society of Actuaries, 2019).
- Persons with opioid use disorder cost employer plans nearly twice as much ($19,450) in annual medical expenses on average annually as individuals not experiencing opioid addiction ($10,853) (Kenan Institute, 2017).
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