Employment Outcomes for Social Security Disability Insurance Applicants Who Use Opioids

Employment Outcomes for Social Security Disability Insurance Applicants Who Use Opioids

Published: Feb 11, 2022
Publisher: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
Associated Project

Retirement and Disability Research Consortium

Time frame: 2018-2023

Prepared for:

Social Security Administration


Paul O’Leary

Dara Lee Luca

Key Findings
  • Applicants who self-reported opioid use at the time of application had lower employment rates in the first four years after determination compared to non-opioid users.
  • Estimates from different estimation methods and for samples—including awarded and denied applicants—all suggest a negative and statistically significant association between (1) self-reported opioid use at application and (2) post-determination employment and earnings outcomes.
  • Our results suggest that a 10 percent increase in the local opioid prescribing rate is associated with employment that is, at most, 0.3 of a percentage point lower, which is similar to the documented association among the broader U.S. population. While we know opioids are associated with lower employment, we do not know whether opioids per se contribute positively or negatively to this result.

In this paper, we examine the relationship between self-reported prescription opioid use and employment outcomes among individuals that applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in 2009. Our analysis addresses two questions: (1) How do employment and earnings patterns differ between SSDI applicants who did and did not use opioids at the time of application? (2) What is the association between opioid use and employment outcomes among SSDI applicants? Understanding these patterns and associations can improve understanding about the post-application economic well-being of SSDI applicants and may help policymakers identify ways to help this group.

How do you apply evidence?

Take our quick four-question survey to help us curate evidence and insights that serve you.

Take our survey