We’ve all heard a lot during this presidential election season about the heroin epidemic that has seemingly left no corner of the United States untouched. Experts say an important factor that led to today’s skyrocketing rates of addiction has been the widespread abuse of opioid prescriptions for painkillers, including those prescribed by doctors for employees covered by workers comp claims. A new report from Castlight Health reveals that this prescription abuse continues today, accounting for a significant chunk of healthcare spending.
Castlight’s report, The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce, finds that nearly one third (32 percent) of opioid prescriptions subsidized by U.S. employers are being abused by a small number of employees — just 4.5 percent of the population, accounting for 40 percent of opioid prescription spending. Baby boomers are four times as likely to abuse opioids as millennials, the report finds, and workers with a mental health diagnosis are three times more likely to abuse opioids as those without.
The report is based on aggregated reporting from medical and pharmacy-based claims, including de-identified and anonymous health-data reporting covering nearly 1 million Americans who use Castlight’s health-benefits platform. The report defines “opioid abuse” as receiving more than a cumulative 90-day supply of opioids and receiving an opioid prescription from four or more providers over the five-year period between 2011 and 2015.
In addition to the cost (opioid abusers typically cost employers twice as much as non-abusers in medical expenses annually), opioid abuse lowers productivity and potentially puts other employees at risk, says Kristin Torres Mowat, Castlight’s senior vice president of health plan and strategic data operations. Opioid prescription abuse results in more than 16,000 deaths in the United States each year, the report notes.
The report finds that patients living in low-income areas are twice as likely as patients living in high-income areas to abuse prescription painkillers. The South is home to a significant chunk of opioid abusers, with 22 of the top 25 U.S. cities for opioid abuse located in Southern states.