Opioid Crisis Decreasing Male Labor Force Participation: Study

New research suggests that the continuing opioid crisis may be responsible for a significant decrease in participation among males in the U.S. labor force. 

According to findings published in a the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity last week, researchers warn that the decreasing labor force appears to be impacted by the fact that many able-bodied men are suffering and addicted to pain medications.

Princeton University economist, Alan B. Krueger, compared opioid prescription rates to labor force data from the past 15 years. He found that, due to a number of factors, the labor force participation rate has declined since 2007. In 2000, the rate was 67%, by September 2015, the rate had dropped to 62%, a 40 year low.

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While aging populations and other factors played a role in the decline, Krueger found that about half of prime age men who are not in the labor force have serious health conditions, which are barriers to working. It also found that half of prime age men not in the labor force take prescription narcotic painkillers every day.

The findings concluded that opioid use by American men accounted for one-fifth of the decline in the participation rate.

The participation rates have declined more in areas where the opioid crisis is prevalent, including Appalachia, Krueger determined. The study also found that people who are unemployed will be more likely to misuse or abuse narcotic painkillers.

“Regardless of the direction of causality, the opioid crisis and depressed labor force participation are now intertwined in many parts of the U.S.,” he concluded. “Addressing the opioid crisis could help support efforts to raise labor force participation and prevent it from falling further.”

The opioid crisis has worsened in recent years, with studies indicating opioid abuse is widespread across the U.S. Some studies indicate opioid abuse problems may be widely underreported, by up to 24%.

However, the study determined that the increases in opioid use have not resulted in a decrease in incidence of pain, which is what should happen if the medications are being properly prescribed. That suggests that doctors need to take a different approach to pain management, Krueger noted.

He said that addressing the decline should be a national priority, as it leaves those men with “relatively little meaning in their daily activities.”

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