How Moving Able-Bodied Adults from Welfare to Work Could Help Solve the Opioid Crisis

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The number of Americans dying from drug overdoses has reached a crisis level. In 2017, there was a drug overdose death every seven and a half minutes, on average.1 Total drug overdose deaths have increased by nearly 60 percent in just the last four years.

Medicaid expansion has often been held out by proponents as a silver bullet to solve the opioid crisis. However, the data is clear that the opioid crisis has not abated more rapidly in states that expanded Medicaid. Instead, the number of opioid deaths has increased in sync with the increase in able-bodied adults added to the program. Nearly all of the states where the opioid crisis has been most devastating are states that have expanded Medicaid to more able-bodied adults.

To make matters worse, few able-bodied adults on Medicaid work full-time, while most do not work at all. This is particularly troubling because worklessness is significantly associated with opioid misuse. State and federal efforts to move able-bodied adults from welfare to work could serve an important function in combating the opioid crisis.