The nation’s opioid crisis has been officially declared a “public health emergency” as of 2017, underscoring employer recognition of the devastating impact of this growing epidemic. Opioids are used for pain management and include prescription drugs such as morphine, methadone, codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone and fentanyl. In addition to the immense societal toll, opioid misuse and abuse has specific ramifications for employers and employees. Among employer challenges are lost productivity costs, excess medically-related absenteeism and disability costs, as well as caregiver and dependent costs.


Policy makers should:

  • Require providers to follow CDC guidelines for chronic pain management;
  • Ensure that government policy and programs support prevention of abuse/misuse of prescription opioids;
  • Enhance Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs);
  • Establish mandatory Continuing Medical Education (CME) for opioid prescribing;
  • Establish evidence-based guidelines for opioid initiation for acute pain;
  • Increase prescription drug take-back efforts;
  • Mandate e-prescriptions for opioids; and
  • Require detailed communication guides by manufacturers.


  • According to the recent Business Group Health Care Strategy and Plan Design survey, the majority of employers (82%) are concerned about inappropriate use and abuse of prescription opioids, and 55% are “very concerned.”
  • Lost workplace productivity costs contributed the largest share of total societal costs associated with opioid abuse, amounting to approximately $25.6 billion.
  • Of the workplace costs, the cost of premature death was the largest component, accounting for $11.2 billion (43.8%), and lost wages/employment and presenteeism were the next two costliest components, contributing $7.9 billion (31.0%) and $2.0 billion (8.0%), respectively.
  • Employees with opioid abuse accounted for 64.5% and 90.1% of excess medically related absenteeism and disability costs, while caregivers contributed the remaining 35.5% and 9.9%, respectively.
  • Nearly one out of every three (32 percent) opioid prescriptions filled through an employer-sponsored health plan has been linked to abuse.
  • Opioid abusers cost employers nearly twice as much ($19,450) in annual medical expenses on average annually as non-abusers ($10,853).

Also of Interest

Access all NBGH resources on pharmacy and prescription drugs.

2020 Election Health Policy Priorities
Access all Public Policy priorities leading up to the 2020 election.

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