There is a problem facing employers in the United States. In many cities and towns throughout America, employers have felt their productivity dwindle as they are failing to retain employees. Employers and economists are blaming this on opioid abuse.
NPR recently ran an investigation into a town in Indiana. A local recruiting agent was told by employers that they couldn’t reach their productivity due to a continuing factor. This was due to an inability to hire employees because a third were failing the pre-employment drug test. Applicants were almost all failing for opioid use.
One manufacturing company had plans to expand and grow their company. That was until they discovered that there was drug dealing taking place on the floor of their factory. The impact of this discovery meant the company had to focus their efforts ensuring that all their employees are sober. Potential clients are aware of this opioid crisis. Before signing a contract, they want to be certain that all employees are clean.
The United States is currently experiencing a major crisis in deaths from opioids. Opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015 and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the “worst drug crisis in American history”. The National Institute for Drug Abuse estimates that there 2.1 million people in the US who suffer from the effects of opioid addiction. Prescriptions for opioids have been growing year-on-year since the 1990s. The Institute has identified some key factors, which they believe to have driven a rise in the opioid crisis in the US. They believe that there is a greater social acceptance for using prescription medicine for a multitude of problems, a drastic increase in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.
David Mericle, a senior economist a Goldman Sachs believes that the opioid crisis is having a direct impact on the economy. "The opioid epidemic is intertwined with the story of declining prime-age participation, especially for men, and this reinforces our doubts about a rebound in the participation rate," Mericle said. It is a statistic that has confused economists. When there are so many jobs available, why is there such a limit on the number of people actively looking for work? This is a crisis that appears to be affecting men most commonly. It is not just a lack of employees that is a result of the opioid crisis. Lost hours, healthcare strains and criminal proceedings all take their toll on the economy. The US government estimated that the opioid crisis cost the US economy $78.5bn in 2013. The crisis has only grown since then.
Some have pointed to the economic collapse of 2008 as the source of the opioid crisis. People across the United States found themselves unemployed. Families amassed massive debt from subprime mortgages. A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research discovered that when unemployment increases by 1% in a county, opioid death rate per 100,000 increases by 3.6%. Emergency room visits due to overdoses increased by 7%.
Deaths by Despair
The links between unemployment and opioid use are clear. Mortality rates due to opioid use have been referred to as “deaths by despair” by economists. However, it appears to have become a phenomenon in the United States. European countries also suffered the effects of the economic crisis of the late 2000s. Yet the unemployed in these countries did not suffer the overdose rates endured by US workers. An access to a social safety net has prevented European workers from falling through the system. Unemployment in the United States is met with a greater level of despair.