We’ve all heard the heartbreaking stories of the personal toll the opioid crisis has taken on Massachusetts’ families. And we’ve seen action taken by Gov. Charlie Baker and the state Legislature to enlist the law-enforcement, medical and public-education communities in a comprehensive campaign to aggressively combat this epidemic on several fronts.
Their efforts have produced some encouraging results, but there’s still much to be done.
In 2017 there was a 4 percent drop in opioid-related overdose deaths compared with 2016, according to the state Department of Public Health. The 1,909 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017 are still unacceptable, but nonetheless a marked improvement over the 2,089 reported in 2016. While millions of taxpayers’ dollars have been allocated to stem this drug dependency tide, less clear is the impact it’s had on businesses’ bottom line.
A report released this week by Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation showed that the opioid crisis siphons $2.5 billion annually out of the state’s economy because of absent or distracted employees dealing with addiction issues. According to the report, opioids have kept an estimated 32,700 people from participating in the labor force here in Massachusetts over the past seven years.
These numbers are more than mere statistics. In an already tight labor market, these factors make it difficult to retain and attract the type of skilled labor needed for the state’s high-tech economy. Without a significant drop in opioid abuse and overdose deaths, the state will face “an unprecedented constraint to growth,” the report said. So, what can employers — large and small — do to help neutralize opioids’ debilitating effect on the workforce? The answer might be to incorporate some of the state’s anti-drug policies.
In an online commentary in US News & World Report, Christopher J. Swift, chairman of the Hartford Insurance Co., outlined some of the steps that his corporation has taken to keep workers on the job and sober.
Chairman Swift said the Hartford, through a comprehensive opioid management strategy, has reduced the use of opioids among its workers’ compensation claimants by nearly 40 percent since 2015. By using data and analytics, the Hartford identifies injured workers who appear to be at risk of addiction and offers alternative pain-management therapies while providing support so they can safely return to work. Such steps not only produce healthy results, they can make a marked difference on corporations’ bottom lines. According to Swift, in 2015, more than $1.5 billion in workers’ compensation pharmacy costs were directly linked to opioids.
Beyond these measures, employers can emulate initiatives taken at the government level by removing the stigma of addiction, educating workers on the dangers of opioids through wellness programs, and ensuring that employees suffering from addiction get the counseling and treatment they need. Obviously, resources will dictate how much businesses can do to provide workers with the guidance and help they need. But it should be understood by policy-makers on Beacon Hill and CEOs that corporations actually are people. And without a comprehensive drug program in place, those corporations will continue to suffer from lost work hours and depressed profits.