Opioid epidemic impacting Tennessee labor market

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - A new economic report from UT's Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research delivered to Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday reported more growth for the Tennessee and U.S. economies but also signs of economic trouble in light of the ongoing opioid epidemic. 

"This is a serious problem and even if it doesn't directly affect you, indirectly it has consequences for our economy and our state and local government," said Matt Murray, associate director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research.

According to the report, prescription opioids not only reduce an individual's household income and create health challenges, but the drugs also drive people out of the labor market. 

"The evidence is suggesting that opioids are causing people to become unemployed, and importantly, leave the labor market," Murray said. "What it means for regions in Tennessee is lower rates of job growth, lower rates of income growth, and lower level of economic prosperity."

Another negative impact of opioids is the increased costs for the state and local governments, with opioid abuse resulting in higher county unemployment rates, reduced labor participation, and a sharp increase in opioid-related hospitalizations. 

This has forced the state to spend more money on treatment in an effort to combat the problem. 

"The legislature and the governor gave us an additional $6 million for substance abuse treatment and additionally we were able to secure at $13.8 million from the federal government and with that extra money, we have been able to treat significantly more people," Matthew Parriott, Director of Communications for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said in a phone interview.

Murray said an increase in opioid-related hospitalizations has put a large financial burden on hospitals across the state. 

"[There are] significant costs for the hospitals in Tennessee," Murray said. "This is a problem that goes past urban Tennessee. It's a problem for rural Tennessee as well, where we hear more and more about struggling rural hospitals trying to pay the bills and closing, and the opioid crisis is simply adding weight to the problem these rural hospitals are already confronting."

Some of the suggestions listed in the report are looking at the prescribing behavior of high-prescribing physicians and increasing the availability and quality of treatment programs in the area.  

According to the economic report, "A 10 percent reduction in per capita opioid prescriptions would lead to an additional $825 million in income for Tennesseans from enhanced labor market participation."


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