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Opioid use responsible for 20% of the drop in male workers

The opioid addiction epidemic accounts for a fifth of the drop in men in the US work force, according to a new study by Obama’s chief economist.

Princeton University economist Alan Krueger conducted a comprehensive review of data from the past 15 years on prescription rates and the amount of people in the labor force.

He concluded that there had been a shift in prescription rates which affected the amount of men in work.

And this, he said, appeared to be down to a change in medical habits (i.e. drug abuse) as opposed to medical conditions.

Ultimately, his study said the rise in the rate of painkiller prescriptions from 1999 to 2015 accounted for 20 percent of the drop in men in the workforce, and 25 percent of women.  

Alan Krueger, a top Obama-era economist, reviewed 15 years of data. He found prescription painkillers drove down men in labor force by 20 percent (graph from his study)

His findings come weeks after President Trump declared the addiction epidemic a national emergency as it is now the leading cause of death for under-50s.

‘The opioid crisis and depressed labor-force participation are now intertwined in many parts of the U.S.,’ Krueger wrote in the study. 

‘The problem of the depressed labor force has run into the problem of the opioid crisis,’ he said. ‘Now they’re connected.’

Specifically, he found areas with a shrinking workforce like Michigan, Maine and Nevada also had the highest rates of painkiller prescriptions.  

Unemployed men and unemployed women used far more painkillers than workers.

Almost half of unemployed men (44 percent) admitted to taking pain pills within the last 24 hours, compared to fewer than a quarter of working men. 

Meanwhile more than a quarter of working women and a third of unemployed women said the same – a far smaller gap.

Krueger said the data show the issue is hitting unemployed men hard

‘Addressing the decades-long slide in labor force participation by prime-age men should be a national priority,’ he said.

Indeed, figures released in June by the New York Times revealed drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in American adults under 50.

The data, published in a special report by the Times’ Josh Katz, lays bare the bleak state of America’s opioid addiction crisis fueled by deadly manufactured drugs like fentanyl. 

The figures were based on preliminary data, which will form part of an official report by the CDC later this year.

Experts warn a key factor of the surge in deaths is fentanyl, which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin. 

The Times said its data showed between 59,000 and 65,000 people could have died from overdoses in 2016, up from 52,404 in 2015, and double the death rate a decade ago.

Now, politicians are taking notice as well. 

‘I do think it is related to declining labor-force participation among prime-age workers,’ Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said in a July Senate hearing when asked about the crisis.

‘I don’t know if it’s causal or if it’s a symptom of long-running economic maladies that have affected these communities and particularly affected workers who have seen their job opportunities decline.’

‘Women take opioids, just like men,’ Krueger said. ‘The magnitudes are pretty similar.’

‘At a personal level, I think people are not very satisfied with their lives when they’re out of the labor force,’ he said, ‘and from an economic standpoint, they’re on the sidelines. They’re not even on the team.’