The U.S. opioid crisis cost more than $1 trillion from 2001 to 2017, and will cost another $500 billion in the following three years unless “concerted and sustained action” is taken to stem prescription painkiller and heroin abuse, a nonprofit consultancy estimated Tuesday.
Altarum, which researches health systems, said the costs are borne by individuals, who lose wages; the private sector, which suffers lost productivity and health costs; and federal, state and local governments, which lose tax revenue and then spend money on health care, social services, education and criminal justice activities.
Rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths have skyrocketed over the past two decades.
Altarum said that trend came with a huge price tag, estimating that costs tied to the crisis spiked from nearly $30 billion in 2001 to a whopping $115 billion in 2017.
Altarum said lost income and productivity from overdose deaths were the biggest factor in the losses, estimating an average loss of $800,000 per person and an average age of 41 years old for those who died of opioid-related causes.
Lost wages and productivity, in turn, resulted in less revenue for federal, state and local tax collectors. The problem has worsened as people turn from prescription opioids to heroin and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which is highly potent and deadly.
Roughly 42,000 people died from opioid use in 2016, and estimates based on the first half of 2017 suggest that number shot to 62,000 last year.
Altarum said health care costs to deal with opioids amounted to $215 billion from 2001 to 2017, resulting from emergency room visits and ambulance costs, the use of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and indirect health costs from other diseases and complications related to drug use.
A “disproportionately large share” of the cost has fallen on Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor.
Democratic lawmakers in states reeling from the opioid crisis criticized President Trump on Monday for proposing sweeping cuts to Medicaid, even though the White House proposed more than tripling the amount of federal money set aside to deal with the problem in 2019 — $10 billion instead of Congress’s agreed-upon amount of $3 billion.
Altarum said it estimated the economic costs to help policymakers tackle the problem, citing its work with Lorain County, Ohio, which implemented an action plan after consultants revealed that too little was spent on prevention and treatment.
“A cost estimate is valuable in understanding the scope of the problem, identifying areas of society most affected by it, and creating evidence-based interventions to address the issue,” Altarum said. “As communities across the nation grapple with how best to respond to the crisis, such estimates can be a critical starting point for action.”
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