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New Report Requested by Scott, Collins, and Casey Sheds Light on Opioids’ Impact on Older Workers

New Report Requested by Scott, Collins, and Casey Sheds Light on Opioids’ Impact on Older Workers

WASHINGTON – Over the last two decades, the labor force participation rate among prime-age workers has declined, while the opioid crisis has increased across the country.  A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides a detailed examination of the relationship between labor force participation rates and substance use. 

The GAO’s report, “Older Workers: Opioid Misuse and Employment Outcomes,” was requested by U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Casey (D-Pa.). It builds on the efforts of the Aging Committee to support older Americans in the workforce.  Although the labor participation rate among Americans age 50 and older increased significantly in the years prior to the pandemic, the GAO findings show that older adults who misuse opioids are much less likely to be employed than their peers.

"The opioid epidemic has affected Americans of all ages, including older Americans, costing many their livelihoods," said Senator Scott. "I'm glad the GAO has fulfilled our request for this report, which couldn't come at a more crucial time. We must use all tools at our disposal, including the findings in this report, to support older Americans struggling with opioid addiction.”

“The opioid epidemic has had a devastating effect on countless families and communities.  One of the consequences of this public health crisis has been a decline in overall labor force participation rates, contributing to workforce shortages and trapping individuals struggling with addiction in a cycle of poverty,” said Senator Collins.  “This report explores this issue in depth and provides insight into how we can develop and improve programs to better support older adults with substance use disorders.”

“The opioid epidemic is ravaging communities in every corner of our country and affects people of all ages. Older Americans are among the unseen in this epidemic,” said Senator Casey. “This report confirms that one of the devastating effects of opioid addiction for older adults has been widespread unemployment.  I will continue to fight for additional resources to help communities tackle this crisis and provide support to those struggling with addiction.”

According to the GAO, when compared with all older adults age 50 and older who did not misuse opioids:

  • Older adults who misused opioids were an estimated 22 percent less likely to be in the labor force (either employed or actively seeking work);
  • Older adults in the labor force who misused opioids were an estimated 40 percent less likely to be employed; and
  • Employed older workers who misused opioids were twice as likely to have experienced periods of unemployment.