Opioid Use Disorder Carries Health and Productivity Costs for Employers

Employees with opioid use disorder (OUD) incur high costs for health care and reduced productivity—but costs are greatly reduced for employees who receive recommended medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for OUD, reports a study the May Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Rachel Mosher Henke, PhD, and colleagues of IBM Watson Health, Cambridge, Mass., analyzed data on nearly 17 million US employees, drawn from a commercial insurance claims database. About 0.6% of employees had evidence of OUD in health care claims. As expected, employees with OUD had higher health care costs.

But the cost and productivity impact was substantially lower for employees who received MAT. The current standard of care for OUD, MAT uses medications such as buprenorphine or methadone to reduce opioid use, promote abstinence, and aid recovery. Excess health care costs were about $5,400 for OUD patients who had access to MAT, compared to approximately $19,000 for those who did not receive MAT.

On analysis of 970,000 employees with available data from health risk assessments, MAT also avoided higher costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism (reduced productivity while at work) associated with OUD. Overall, employees with OUD who did not receive MAT cost employers about $25,000 per year, including increased health care costs and lost productivity.

The study adds to previous research showing that employers incur significant costs from OUD, while providing new evidence that providing recommended MAT can reduce those excess costs. “On the basis of this finding, employers can make a business case for expanding access to pharmacotherapy treatment,” Dr. Henke and coauthors write.

The researchers add: “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.”
About the Author
Dr. Henke may be contacted for interviews at Rachel.henke@us.ibm.com.
ACOEM (www.acoem.org), an international society of 4,500 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.
About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (www.joem.org) is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.


Henke RM, Ellsworth D, Wier L, Snowdon, J. Opioid Use Disorder and Employee Work Presenteeism, Absences, and Health Care CostsJ Occup Environ Med. 2020;62(5):344-49.