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Pain and pain meds are keeping men out of the workforce

The opioid industry’s insidious tentacles are choking the life out of individuals, families, and communities. Now we learn that nearly 44 percent of men aged 24-54 who aren’t in the workforce are on pain meds.

2/3rds of those men are taking prescription pain killers. Yet many are still in pain – a finding that surprises no one remotely familiar with opioids’ poor record with chronic pain.

Only about 2 percent of these men received work comp benefits in the prior year; it is certainly possible that many more were injured at work, settled their claim, reached maximum medical improvement, or otherwise are no longer receiving WC benefits. Fully a quarter are receiving Social Security disability income.

This is a critically important issue for all of us. Research by Alan Krueger PhD of Princeton University gives us much-needed clarity on why labor force participation is near a 40-year low; it’s about

  • poor health status; 43 percent of  men aged 24-54 not in the workforce report their health as fair or poor
  • 34% of these men report at least one functional disability
  • as a group, these workers report “feeling pain during about half of their time.”
  • average pain rating is 88 percent higher for these men than men who are employed

Of course, Dr Krueger’s research is not just about opioids, but it’s abundantly clear that opioids aren’t helping these men deal with their pain, and pain is keeping many out of the workforce.

This comes on the heels of reports that the death rate for middle-aged whites has been increasing of late – and at least part of the problem is, once again, opioids

What does this mean to you?

STOP approving opioids for chronic pain unless nothing else works. 


4 thoughts on “Pain and pain meds are keeping men out of the workforce”

  1. I will be interested to hear whether the percentage is based on those who are currently receiving WC or if it encompasses those who were on WC at any time. I would suspect that the number does not reflect those who were on WC prior to SSD.

  2. If claims administrators, employers and defense counsel are not addressing delayed recovery due to unresolved pain (long before it becomes chronic) that may be caused by psychosocial contributors, they are not effectively addressing the problem. Mental health and behavioral factors contributing to delayed recovery can frequently be identified within the first 6 weeks of a claim

  3. I have a relative who has been on opioids for four years due to a work comp injury/surgery. I have no idea how to get him off the drugs–he will immediately claim intractable pain. I advised he may die from the drugs–he is willing to do so when faced with not using them. Any thoughts?

    1. Plain and simple, they need to go to rehab. But if they are not willing, or have not hit bottom there is not much you can do.

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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