The opioid crisis and its destabilizing impact on all aspects of the state’s workers and economy was the focus of a chamber program at William James College.
“This is a health care crisis that no one talks about,” said William James President Dr. Nicholas Covino. “It’s a health care crisis we don’t fund, we don’t educate people on, and it’s one that costs us billions of dollars.”
The damage opioids is having on all aspects of the state has been captured in a report by the non-partisan Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation, which found that the state is at the epicenter of the crisis, with an average of 30.2 opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people in 2016—up from an average of below 10 just six years prior.
In comparison, the average number of opioid-related deaths for the United States as a whole was 13.1 per 100,000 people that same year.
“This is not only a large problem, the trends are even scarier,” said Andrew Bagley, vice president for Policy and Research at the Taxpayer Foundation. “There’s no reason to believe that [the trends] are not going to continue to grow, but it’s not only the size of the problem it’s the breadth of the problem. It affects communities, emergency rooms, the health care system, state government. There is no system in the Commonwealth that does not see the impact.”
Lost productivity in Massachusetts from people unable to work, foregone income due to fatalities, absenteeism and presenteeism, and excess health care costs to be approximately $9.7 billion, Begley added.
Costs attributable to opioid programs and services across systems in Massachusetts (health care providers, the state and municipalities) are estimated to be at least $5.5 billion.
Both speakers and attendees shared stories about people they’ve met who have been harmed by the opioid crisis. Discussions also explored treatment options and the stigma surrounding substance use.
Barreveld told attendees she hoped to illustrate that there is a path to recovery for patients.
“I want to fire that hope in you and help you to see that treating opioid use disorder is something we can do and that there isn’t one path to recovery,” she said. “We are here to support our family members, our community and our patients.”
Covino spoke from the behavioral health perspective and the efforts William James is taking to address the epidemic.
“This is a serious epidemic and we do not talk about it,” said Covino, who organized and moderated the program.
Covino also emphasized that recovery cannot happen without the necessary workforce to provide treatment. We as a community, he said, need to train more mental health professionals and build a better workforce to address the issues related to opioid and other substance use.
Starting in Fall 2019, William James College will offer a Substance Use and Addictions Area of Emphasis for the Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and a Substance Use and Addictions Concentration for students in the Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Human Services completion program.
Covino ended the program encouraging collaboration across fields and professions to create lasting change in the opioid crisis and issues surrounding substance use. “The hope [for this conference] was that we’d stop thinking in silos about our work,” he said, “This is a space that really needs us to be informed and active and we’re grateful to folks who are doing work in this space.”
Impact of opioid crisis on businesses, workers and the economy
Key findings from a report commissioned by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, an independent, non-partisan public policy research organization, on the impact of the opioid crisis on businesses, workers and the economy:
The opioid epidemic is far from over and will probably get worse.
- The crisis has moved to its deadliest phase to date, characterized by a transition from heroin to fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances, which are 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 5,000 times more potent than heroin.
- The number of fentanyl-related deaths in the U.S. soared from 2,628 in 2012 to 29,406 in 2017, a ten-fold jump in just five years, and this trend shows no signs of abating.
Massachusetts is at the forefront of the epidemic.
- Massachusetts had the fourth highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the nation at 30.2 per 100,000 of population in 2016, which was 2.3 times greater than the U.S. average.
- Opioid-related deaths nearly quadrupled in Massachusetts from 560 in 2010 to 2,154 in 2016.
The impact of opioids on businesses is significant.
- Opioids have kept an estimated 32,700 people from participating in the labor force in Massachusetts over the past seven years, making it all the more challenging for employers to find people to fill open positions.
- Another estimated 143,000 employed individuals (4.2% of total employed in the state) report pain reliever misuse and experience on average 18 more days off from work than those who do not misuse prescription pain medications.
- Lost productivity from absenteeism and presenteeism (i.e., reduced job performance due to an illness, injury or anxiety) in the state is likely more than $2.5 billion annually.
The fiscal costs of the epidemic are enormous – and the trends are alarming.
While the full costs of the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts cannot be quantified because, as noted in the report, costs in several areas cannot be calculated, the report estimates:
- Lost productivity in Massachusetts from people unable to work, foregone income due to fatalities, absenteeism and presenteeism, and excess health care costs to be approximately $9.7 billion.
- Costs attributable to opioid programs and services across systems in Massachusetts (health care providers, the state and municipalities) to be at least $5.5 billion.