Patient Care

Community Impact

Future of Health

Calculating the Economic Toll of Substance Use Disorders

The human toll of the opioid crisis is easily seen every day across many Partners HealthCare institutions. But the crisis’ impact can also be felt on Massachusetts’ businesses, health care providers, and our overall economy. In 2018, a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF) report, funded by RIZE Massachusetts, sought to shed light on the magnitude of that impact. Its conclusion: the epidemic has brought a loss of $2.5 billion in diminished productivity and presenteeism – working less efficiently while ill or exhausted.

The report also noted that Massachusetts is at the epidemic’s forefront, with the fourth highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the nation – a position that will change only with decisive action. To that end, RIZE Board Chair David Torchiana, MD, then-Partners President and CEO, joined other health care leaders in a November 2018 Boston Globe op-ed to argue that addressing the economic toll of opioid use disorders will require a shared commitment from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors: “As we learn more about the impact of the opioid epidemic on our economy, the business community must now bring its commitment, brainpower, and resources to the table and become an equal partner in addressing this crisis, just as it has done in the past on other issues.”

The editorial calls for improving access to opioid use-related medications, making full use of tool kits provided by hospitals and insurers, leading by example to eliminate stigma and encourage sufferers to seek help, and using business buying power to influence public policy. Acknowledging the magnitude of the problem as described by the MTF/RIZE research, the editorial remains optimistic about the path ahead. “We are confident that when the public, nonprofit, and private sectors fully come together, we will get it done and make the Commonwealth even stronger,” it concludes.