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Report: Opioid Use Affects County Unemployment Rate

A new economic outlook report from the University of Tennessee examines the correlation between the opioid epidemic and local unemployment rates.

Data shows the higher the opioid use, the higher the unemployment rate, the report found.

The UT Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research compiles this report for the governor on a quarterly basis. Overall, the report projects the state's economy will continue to grow in 2018 and 2019, but data shows it wont grow as fast as it did in 2017.

Experts say that's because the economy is already operating a high level of activity, and there isn't a capacity to accelerate growth.

Matt Murray, associate director and project director for the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, said the correlation between opioid use and the unemployment rate documented in the report is due to a combination of legitimate and inappropriate drug use that's affecting the labor market.

"This may be a reflection of legitimate and appropriate use of opioids. Individuals in chronic pain with opioids are simply not able to work. But part of this is a reflection of illegitimate use of opioids. An addiction problem has spread across the state and the country that has had hire consequences for the labor market," Murray said.

In October of this year the unemployment rate in Knox County was 2.6 percent. In that same month, 18 people died of a drug overdose in Knox County, according to the Knox County District Attorney General.

Murray said some of the consequences of lower labor participation are lower income levels and slower job growth. It can also create problems for local governments that use sales tax for funding.

The report said 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.

The report said a starting point to combat the opioid issue may be focusing on high-prescribing physicians across the state. It also suggested other mitigation efforts such as information campaigns to increase the availability and quality of treatment programs.

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