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Here’s the Staggering Amount of Money the Opioid Crisis Is Costing America’s Employers

The American opioid addiction crisis isn’t just a worsening public health tragedy that claims tens of thousands of lives each year and devastates local communities—it’s also a massive financial strain on employers as the healthcare bill for treating workers (and their family members) addicted to painkillers balloons, according to a new report by the healthcare think tank Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

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Large employers, which help provide the vast majority of Americans’ private health insurance, paid for more than $2.6 billion worth of opioid addiction and overdose treatment services in 2016, KFF finds. That means workers consumed nearly 10 times as much of these services in 2016 than they did 10 years ago. Of the $2.6 billion in treatment for opioid addiction and overdoses, $2.3 billion was paid by insurance, while another $335 million was paid out of pocket—and more than half went toward covering employees’ children.

Opioid addiction treatment costs on employers; Credit: Kaiser Family Foundation
Kaiser Family Foundation

The overall tab for opioid-related treatment is likely even higher since Kaiser’s analysis only examined services that were at least in part paid for through health insurance claims. It omits those that were covered entirely out of workers’ pockets.

But helping cover healthcare tabs is only one way in which employers have been affected by the opioid crisis. Last fall, famed Princeton University economist Alan Krueger unveiled research finding that 20% of the drop in men’s labor force participation is attributable to drug addiction.