The opioid crisis is costing Massachusetts $2.5 billion a year in lost productivity from employees who aren't showing up for work because of their addiction or who are showing up, but are so distracted by their addiction or need to care for an addicted family member they can't concentrate on their jobs.
That's among the findings of a report released this week by the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. The organization is held a forum on Friday to discuss the findings featuring Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey and U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III.
While the addiction crisis -- which has killed thousands of Massachusetts residents in recent years -- has largely been measured by the social and emotional toll it has taken on families and communities, the new report attempts to frame the cost in economic terms, as well.
"There's an old business school adage that you can't manage what you can't measure, so we thought that quantifying the cost and providing a sense of the magnitude would motivate employers to engage more on this issue," said foundation president Eileen McAnneny. "The economic impact is a crisis itself."
One big reason the opioid epidemic should worry employers is that it threatens to make it harder to find and keep employees in an already tight labor market, McAnneny said.
According to the report, opioids have kept an estimated 32,700 people from participating in the labor force in Massachusetts over the past seven years.
The report pegged at $5.9 billion the total economic impact to the state last year in lost productivity from people unable to work because of the addiction crisis -- as opposed to those already employed who weren't showing up or were distracted at work.
The report also estimated the forfeited income of those who have died because of overdoses at $1.1 billion for 2017.
Without a significant drop in opioid misuse and overdose deaths, the state will face "an unprecedented constraint to growth," the report said.
"People may have a sense that Massachusetts is on top of it and we've made progress and we have -- but it's not enough," McAnneny said in an interview.
The White House Council of Economic Advisers in a report last year pegged the true cost of the opioid epidemic nationwide, including fatalities caused by heroin and other illicit opioids, at a staggering $504 billion in 2015. That estimate was significantly higher than previous studies that focused on primarily on costs associated with prescription opioid misuse and dependence, including health care and lost productivity.
Baker signed two major bills aimed at addressing the opioid crisis during his first four years in office and said after winning re-election Nov. 6 that the opioid abuse crisis will remain a top priority in his second term.
There have been some signs the state may be turning a corner.
In 2017 there was a 4 percent drop in opioid-related overdose deaths compared with 2016, according to the state Department of Public Health. The number of confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths for 2017 was still a sobering 1,909, compared with 2,089 in 2016 and 1,685 in 2015, according to statistics released in August.
The number of opioid-related overdose deaths has continued to fall during the first three months of 2018, but there are still troubling trends, most notably that the presence of fentanyl in overdose deaths has reached an all-time high. The powerful opioid has been discovered in toxicology tests for nearly 90 percent of those individuals who died from opioid-related overdose deaths this year.