Are Opioids Robbing the Workplace of Key Employees?

Among the observations in the 557-page Economic Report of the President and Council of Economic Advisors is the extent to which the opioid crisis has damaged the efficiency of the labor economy in the United States. The problem has been cited before, but rarely in terms as pointed as those in the new document.

In reference to the problem, the authors of the report wrote:

[C]urbing the opioid crisis is of critical importance for ensuring a stable or growing employment rate among prime-age workers, and curtailing the supply of these substances would reduce addiction rates among Americans. Even with a curtailment of the illicit drug flow into the United States, individuals who are currently out of the labor force because of opioid addiction may struggle to reenter without additional investments in skill upgrading. Still, progress on the opioid addiction front might stem the tide of workers into nonparticipation and, over time, prop up the participation rate.

Unfortunately, curbing the problem has become less and less of a realistic goal. Recently a group of experts at a think tank wrote, in a paper titled “STAT forecast: Opioids could kill nearly 500,000 Americans in the next decade”:

Opioids could kill nearly half a million people across America over the next decade as the crisis of addiction and overdose accelerates.

Deaths from opioids have been rising sharply for years, and drug overdoses already kill more Americans under age 50 than anything else. STAT asked leading public health experts at 10 universities to forecast the arc of the epidemic over the next decade. The consensus: It will get worse before it gets better.

Whatever the effect on the U.S. workforce is (and the problem is complex enough that forecasts are no better than guesses), the Council of Economic Advisors and academic experts mostly agree. The problem may not go away for years, and perhaps decades.