Reining in Opioids

Opioid Abusers Cost Employers $8 Billion Annually

A new report suggests that the prescription opioid crisis is getting worse, not better.
By: | May 9, 2016

Opioid-abusing employees cost their employers up to $8 billion a year, according to a new study.

Castlight Health, a health benefits platform provider, found that companies paid nearly twice as much in health care expenses for opioid abusers than non-abusers — $19,450 compared to $10,853.

“Based on Castlight’s estimate, opioid abuse could be costing employers as much as $8 billion per year,” according to “The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce.”

“Considering that absenteeism and presenteeism tied to opioid misuse and abuse is costing employers an additional estimated $10 billion, this crisis represents a significant drain on America’s employers.”

“Many employees do not recognize the serious risk of addiction before they accept or fill an opioid prescription of any length.” — “The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce,” Castlight Health

Castlight examined nearly 1 million health care claims involving opioid prescriptions for the period 2011 to 2015 for workers at large, self-insured companies.

Leveraging Analytics and Education

Employers may save money by leveraging data and analytics to identify opportunities to help employees who abuse opioids.

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“Whether it’s guiding an employee away from unnecessary back surgery (and the resulting opioid prescriptions) or offering programs that provide access to opioid abuse treatment, Castlight believes that data and analytics are part of the solution.

“For example, better insights can help a benefit leader identify where lower back pain or depression, two conditions closely associated with opioid abuse, are most prevalent in their company.”

Targeting educational content to such employees will help inform them of the dangers of opioids.

Individuals with a behavioral health diagnosis of any kind are three times more likely to abuse opioids than those without such a diagnosis.

“Many employees do not recognize the serious risk of addiction before they accept or fill an opioid prescription of any length,” the study said.

Abuse Factors

The report also identified some common themes about workers more likely to abuse opioid prescriptions.

• Individuals with a behavioral health diagnosis of any kind are three times more likely to abuse opioids than those without such a diagnosis, and nearly 9 percent of people with a single behavioral health diagnosis such as anxiety or depression were found to abuse opioids, compared to 3 percent of individuals without a behavioral health diagnosis.

“This finding is striking given the prevalence of behavioral health issues in the workforce,” the report said. “Twenty-five percent of employees have a diagnosable behavioral health condition; yet 70 percent of impacted employees go untreated.”

• Opioid abusers also have twice as many pain-related conditions as non-abusers, especially joint, neck and abdominal pain.

• Baby boomers are four times more likely to abuse opioids than millennials. More than 7 percent of workers age 50 and older were classified as opioid abusers, compared to 2 percent of those aged 20 to 34.

• States with medical marijuana laws are nearly twice as likely to have a lower opioid abuse rate than those that don’t, by a margin of 5.4 percent to 2.8 percent.

• Opioid abusers are more likely to live in the rural South and live in low-income areas.

• Opioid abuse rates range from 11.6 percent of individuals in Wilmington, N.C., to 7.5 percent of individuals in Fort Smith, Ark..

• Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have multiple cities that are in the top 25 for opioid abuse rate. The three non-southern cities in the top 25 are: Terre Haute, Ind.; Elmira, N.Y.; and Jackson, Mich.

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]