Study explores opioids, labor issues

Schweitzer delivers annual Friedman Lecture at Marietta College

Mark Schweitzer delivers his lecture “Opioids and the Labor Market” Tuesday at the Alma McDonough Auditorium at Marietta College. (Photo by Chad Plauche-Adkins)

Approximately 50 students and community members braved the frigid Tuesday evening temperatures to hear the 35th annual Friedman Lecture at Marietta College’s Alma McDonough Auditorium. Mark Schweitzer, senior vice president with the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank, delivered the lecture “Opioids and the Labor Market” for the event.

During his study, Schweitzer tried to determine the role the opioid epidemic has on labor markets, and some of the factors that are contributing to the changes seen. He said the recent recession hasn’t played a significant role in the increase of opioid abuse. In fact, a particular group of individuals has seen an increase in work availability in high risk areas.

“More college educated women with at least a bachelor’s work more in high addiction areas,” he said.

He said his study shows those that are affected usually are male.

“The effects are largest for men with high school or less educations,” he said. “The study shows one-third less effects on women.”

Schweitzer used data collected from over 50,000 retail pharmacies, census information and employment data compiled from 2006 to 2016 to come to his conclusions.

He said areas like eastern Kentucky, which has had a historically high unemployment rate, have been affected by the epidemic more than others.

“Traditionally bad labor markets do appear to be more susceptible to opioid addiction,” he said.

He also said areas that see high opioid prescription rates have lower labor force participation rates.

“The different prescription rates is primarily a function of the doctors,” he said. “A 10 percent increase in opioid prescriptions equals a 5 percent increase in unemployment in men.”

He said there was a two percent decrease in the overall prime age men’s labor force participation across the country during the period of time he studied. He said almost half of that loss of participation was due to opioid abuse.

“Forty-four percent of the realized decline in prime age men’s labor force participation rate is because of the epidemic,” he said.

The statistic caught some attendees by surprise.

“That was shocking,” said Janet Dyar Welch, Marietta Municipal Court judge.

Welch said she was attending the event to further her understanding of the problem that she sees almost daily in her courtroom.

“I came to learn,” she said.

When asked what the plan of action should be, Schweitzer said the problems start at the doctor’s office.

“We need to be better about how we prescribe opioids,” he said.

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