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Opioid Epidemic Costs TN Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Lost Personal Income

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The opioid epidemic is costing the economy in Tennessee hundreds of millions of dollars every year in lost personal income.

A new report from the University of Tennessee Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research details the impact drug addiction is having on the labor market in our state.

The report from UT economists estimates that if just 10% of people addicted to opioids got clean, it would increase the labor force in the state by about one percentage point. That would lead to an additional $825 million in personal income in Tennessee.

"Prescription opioids can explain up to half of the overall decrease in the labor force participation that we’ve seen since 2000," said Matt Harris, one of the authors of the report. "A 10% decrease in opioids prescribed would lead to about a 1% increase in labor force participation. That’s a lot."

Matt Harris and Larry Kessler are two of the authors of the study. It has already been used by former Governor Bill Haslam to help determine where to allocate money to fight the epidemic. Haslam used the report to unveil his $30 million plan to address the opioid epidemic. That was released earlier this month and focuses on prevention, treatment, and law enforcement.

"We were able to find that increases in prescription opioids leads to reductions in labor force participation as well as increases in the unemployment rate," said Kessler.

At the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, the school trains students to enter the work force. Employers have told them they struggle to find candidates who can stay clean.

"Employers have told us numerous times that opioid addiction, drug addiction of any kind, is a problem for their workforce," said Kelli Chaney, the President of TCAT. "Employers are saying, there’s a drug problem, we can’t find people that can pass a drug test or we give a drug test and they immediately leave."

But the solution isn’t as simple as shutting off the taps to help people get clean.

"If you simply restrict the supply of opioids, you’re likely to turn high functioning addicts into low functioning addicts," said Harris. "The opioid epidemic does have a large effect on our economy. It does have a large effect on labor force participation. Addressing the opioid epidemic can and almost certainly will lead to economic gains."

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