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Press Release

Cleveland Fed examines the effects of the opioid epidemic on the region served by the Bank and on US workers’ participation in the labor force

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50. And in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – states that lie wholly or in part within the region served by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland — opioid overdose deaths are occurring at rates that exceed the national average. In a brief released today, Kyle Fee, a senior policy analyst at the Cleveland Fed, examines the opioid epidemic’s effects on the region.

Fee notes the evolution of the epidemic from a prescription opioid problem into an illegal opioid problem. “Recent data suggest a need to consider both the supply and demand dynamics of the opioid epidemic when contemplating appropriate policy responses,” says Fee. “Reducing the supply of prescription opioids without addressing the demand side may facilitate the spread of illegal opioids and cause the epidemic to get worse.”

Sharing the results of two recent surveys conducted by the Cleveland Fed, Fee says the epidemic is affecting not only individuals and families but also businesses and community development stakeholders.

Fee also summarizes a recent working paper by Cleveland Fed researchers that suggests that US counties that have higher levels of opioid prescriptions during the period from 2006 to 2016 have substantially lower prime-age labor force participation rates.

“The working paper addresses the question: Is a declining labor force participation rate the result of opioid abuse, or is opioid abuse the result of declining economic conditions?” says Fee. “Overall, this research suggests that opioid abuse is not influenced by short-term labor market shocks but that poor labor market outcomes are highly correlated with prescription opioid availability.”

Read: The Opioid Epidemic and its Effects.

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that along with the Board of Governors in Washington DC comprise the Federal Reserve System. Part of the US central bank, the Cleveland Fed participates in the formulation of our nation’s monetary policy, supervises banking organizations, provides payment and other services to financial institutions and to the US Treasury, and performs many activities that support Federal Reserve operations System-wide. In addition, the Bank supports the well-being of communities across the Fourth Federal Reserve District through a wide array of research, outreach, and educational activities.

The Cleveland Fed, with branches in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, serves an area that comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

Media contact

Doug Campbell,, 513.218.1892