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One-third of workers use pain relievers: Study

One in three workers reported using pain relievers with the majority of those on prescriptions drugs and under 5% of workers reported abuse of pain relievers or dependence, according to a study released Wednesday by the Integrated Benefits Institute.

To study the impact of the opioid epidemic and substance abuse on the American workforce, the Oakland, California-based research organization surveyed over the phone 84,579 American workers over 18 years old between 2015 and 2017, with 74% of them reporting to be working full time, according to the study.

Major findings included: 

  • 33% of workers reported taking prescription painkillers.
  • Less than 1% reported any heroin use.
  • Rates of alcohol abuse and dependence exceed the problematic use of pain relievers and other prescription medications at 7% of the workforce interviewed.
  • Use of cocaine or methamphetamine was relatively uncommon, at less than 3% and 1%, respectively.
  • Excess work absences associated with pain relievers were greater than excess absences associated with any other substance. On average, non-problematic use of pain relievers was associated with 0.8 days of excess absences per month compared with non-users. The problematic use of pain relievers was associated with 2.0 absences, or 1.2 excess days per month compared with non-users.
  • Assuming a 20-day work month, the use of pain relievers was associated with a loss of about 1.3% of the monthly labor capacity of 1,000 workers. The non-problematic use of pain relievers accounted for 96% of those losses.