U.S. Companies Losing $10B a Year Due to Workers' Opioid Abuse

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/ Source: CNBC.com
By Bertha Coombs, CNBC

When it comes to the explosion of opioid abuse in the U.S., large employers are footing a big chunk of the bill. Nearly one-third of painkiller prescriptions funded by employer plans are being abused, according to a new report from benefits firm Castlight.

Nearly one in 20 workers who have received an opioid prescription, on average 4.5 percent, have demonstrated a pattern of drug abuse, according to the firm's research. Among baby boomers, the prevalence of abuse is even higher at nearly 7.5 percent.

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"We looked at individuals who received more than a cumulative 90 days-worth supply of opioids, and received an opioid prescription from four or more providers over the five-year period," said Kristin Torres Mowat, senior vice president of plan development and data operations at Castlight.

The findings in the new report titled "The Opioid Crisis in America's Workforce" were based on de-identified data covering nearly one million workers who used Castlight's benefit platform between 2011 and 2015.

Workers who abuse painkillers account for nearly half of all spending by employers on painkillers, and incur nearly twice as much in medical costs – on average $19,450 – as non-abusers, Mowat said.

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Nationally, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, employers are losing $10 billion a year from absenteeism and lost productivity due to opioid abuse.

Benefits analysts say industries with a high incidence of worker injuries such as construction are seeing some of the biggest increases in workers compensation claims resulting from painkiller addiction.

Last month, federal health officials issued new guidelines to try to curb the widespread prescriptions of opioids for chronic pain. States such as Minnesota and New York now require doctors to prescribe the drugs electronically, and check the state's database to spot signs of abuse through multiple prescriptions.

Mowat says Castlight hopes its data will help give employers more insight into the extent of abuse in the workplace. Many large companies already invest in behavioral health and addiction benefits, which are generally underutilized.

"Opioid abuse is a national conversation, but the impact on our economy from the perspective of the employer and the impact on employees and their families isn't as addressed as the social impact," she said.