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A new study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded that employers can make a business case for expanding access to pharmacotherapy treatment for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) based on its finding that receipt of pharmacotherapy significantly reduces overall health care costs.

Prior research has measured the impact of employee opioid use disorder (OUD) on employer costs. One study found that employees who are dependent on opioids but have not been diagnosed with OUD have lower at-work productivity, which costs employers approximately $16 million a year.

Another study using 2006 to 2012 data reported that individuals with OUD had seven more medically related absenteeism days annually relative to matched controls.

A third study found that US adults who misuse prescription pain relievers have higher work absenteeism than do employees who do not.

Studies focusing on health care costs have found that individuals who misuse opioids have more than $10,000 more in annual expenditures.

However, employers do not have a recent or full picture of costs related to OUD. Employees who have a spouse or dependent with an OUD may have additional lost productivity days and days absent because of family member health concerns. Employees may have to help their family member navigate health care benefits during business hours, including identifying appropriate and available providers for substance use disorder (SUD).

Employees also may assume a caregiving role, particularly during relapse or potential relapse. A cross-sectional study of caregivers of individuals with advanced cancer found a 23% drop in average productivity. Another study that looked at caregivers of patients with poststroke spasticity found that lost-productivity cost per employed caregiver was $835 per month, with 72% attributable to presenteeism.

To update this information, ACOEM researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 2016 to 2017 commercial enrollment, health care, and pharmacy claims and health risk assessment data using the IBM® MarketScan® Databases (Ann Arbor, MI).

The results of the new study were consistent with previous research that found that employers incur significant costs from OUD. The findings add to the literature by providing evidence that employers would benefit financially from expanding access to pharmacotherapy for their employees with OUD.

Employers should work with other payers to tackle important barriers to treatment for OUD by supporting efforts to expand provider education and licensure requirements to include MAT and increasing insurance coverage for these treatments.