Calgary

$4.7B in lost labour from opioid deaths has researcher considering career change

An economics student who spent the summer bean-counting the cost of lost labour to the Canadian economy from opioid overdoses, says he’s seriously considering an additional career path after seeing the numbers on paper.

Of 11,500 deaths in Canada since 2016, most were employed men in their 30s

Seventy four per cent of the opioid deaths were men, mostly in their 30s, and about one-third of overdoses were men employed in construction, a new study suggests. (CBC)

An economics student who spent the summer bean-counting the cost of lost labour to the Canadian economy from opioid overdoses says he's seriously considering a different career path after seeing the numbers on paper.

"This research project has changed how I see the world," Alex Cheung told CBC Calgary News at 6.

Cheung, a student at the University of Alberta, did a deep dive into the labour lost due to the opioid crisis, putting a face on the problem.

"I knew that 11,500 Canadians had passed away since 2016 and nearly 70 per cent of them were employed," Cheung said.

"The average age of death was 42, and the average age of retirement is 64/65. I was able to calculate 22 years of lost labour productivity to the Canadian economy."

Cheung accessed Statistics Canada and Government of Alberta and B.C. data, using a research model developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.

Seventy four per cent of the deaths were men, mostly in their 30s. About one-third of overdoses were men employed in construction.

"There is an economic cost of people dying, it's a shocking number," Cheung said.

Labour costs of opioid overdoses 4:11

Cheung's project supervisor says it's an area that needs more light on it.

"Working with Alex helped me get a better gauge of the existing research for Canada, of which there is barely any," Joseph Marchand said in a release.

"In that regard, Alex's work is important."

The project has Cheung considering additional career options.

He's still going to do a PhD in economics, but will look at "possibly a career in health care down the road."

With files from CBC Calgary News at 6

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