Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that the U.S. life expectancy has gone down due to the growing amount of opioid-related fatalities. After analyzing the CDC’s data, the Washington Post documented an 8% increase in death rates for individuals between the ages of 25 and 44. More than 52,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2015 alone, so it is important to examine how the opioid epidemic compromises the health and well-being of American men and women – as well as how it affects their participation in the workforce.
Recent findings from Princeton economist Alan Krueger found that 2 million men between the ages of 25 to 54-years-old take prescription pain medications daily. The rate of women ages 25 to 54 that use prescription or non-prescription painkillers has grown at a similarly alarming rate. CDC data shows that every three minutes, a woman requires emergency medical treatment due to drug abuse. The number of women who die from drug overdoses today is five times as high as it was in 1999.
While the numbers are startling, the amount of deaths from drug overdoses is likely even higher than recorded numbers claim; this is because many death certificates fail to indicate drug overdoses as the cause. CDC researchers found that this occurs as often as 25% of the time. According to data from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the total number of men and women who have died from opioid overdoses has grown by one-third in the last twenty years, indicating a deadly and overwhelming trend.
Opioids are a class of drugs that act upon a person’s central nervous system to reduce or eliminate pain levels. Commonly known opioids include the synthetic drug fentanyl, the street drug heroin as well as prescription medications like codeine, oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone. These drugs carry a particularly high risk of abuse and overdose. Current reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), estimate that up to 2.1 million Americans currently abuse painkillers – and another 467,000 are addicted to heroin.
Rural areas have been hit particularly hard, largely due to fewer addiction treatment centers and a smaller numbers of awareness and prevention programs being in place. Additionally, during an overdose, immediate medical attention is crucial and rural residents may have to wait much longer than urban residents do for emergency assistance to arrive. While rural areas are suffering, urban ones are as well; all across the country, rates of painkiller use and fatal drug overdoses continue to go up.
When Krueger examined the steadily growing number of painkiller-abusing men and women in comparison to the overall decline in participation in the workforce, he theorized that the two are in fact directly related to one another. Krueger’s report was published in the Brookings Paper on Economic Activity and shows that there has been a 25% decline in women’s workforce participation, and the rate of men’s participation has fallen by 20%.
Participation rates within the workforce are the total number of people who are employed or are actively seeking employment opportunities. In 2015, the participation rate fell to the lowest number it has since 1975: 62.4%. Although Krueger cites the opioid epidemic as just one of the contributing factors – including an increase in the number of people enrolling in educational programs and a population that is becoming increasingly older – the impact of painkillers, growing addiction rates and the thousands of deaths from overdoses need not be underestimated.
As individuals become reliant on painkillers, either due to continuing pain problems or because they are habit-forming and addictive, returning to work or actively seeking employment becomes increasingly unlikely. In his study, Krueger found that counties with higher rates of opioid prescriptions had lower rates of workforce participation. This correlation indicates that there is a strong link between opioid use and a lack of gainful employment.
In order to combat the decrease in workforce participation due to opioid use and abuse, the report encourages interventional pain management techniques. Instead of keeping work-age individuals on addictive and lethal drugs for long periods of time, which can also increase the chances of experiencing continuing or worsening pain, medical professionals should consider intervening and coming up with safer, more effective treatment methods for their patients.
NIDA urges medical professionals to limit the number of opioid prescriptions that they write to patients who urgently require pain management services. The institute also says that the aggressive marketing tactics of pharmaceutical companies looking to make profits, as well as the increasing social acceptability of using medications to treat pain all contribute to the severity of the opioid epidemic. If you are prescribed painkillers and are concerned about their effects, you should consult directly with your doctor.
For people who struggle with opioid addiction, whether or not it is from legally obtained prescription painkillers or illegally obtained street drugs, various treatment options are available nationwide. Some programs are state-funded and free for those with limited financial means. If you would like to find out what resources may be available to you, please do not hesitate to visit: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/state-funded/.
If you were overly prescribed opioids from your doctor and became ill or experienced other serious medical problems, please contact our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading, and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.