Someone in the US dies from an opioid overdose every 10 minutes. Aside from the obvious human impact on friends and family, in a much wider context, the misuse of and addiction to opioid drugs, including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl), represents a crisis in terms of the heavy burden it imposes on the US economy.

The 2017 Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) report – ‘Underestimated Cost of the Opioid Crisis’ – describes the issue as having reached crisis levels and exacting a heavy price. Over 50,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2015, states the report, with 63 percent (33,091) reportedly involving opioids (underreporting on death certificates is a factor however, with opioid-involved deaths higher than officially reported).

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the opioid drug epidemic is now claiming more US lives than gun violence and car accidents.

Furthermore, the CEA records the problem as worsening at an alarming rate, with opioid-involved overdose deaths doubling in the past 10 years and quadrupling in the past 16. As well as highlighting opioid fatalities, estimated to cost $431.7bn, the report also notes the impact of non-fatalities, indicating a cost of $72.7bn – a total of $504bn or 2.8 percent of GDP in 2015.

Additional analysis by Altarum in 2018 suggests that the economic toll of the opioid crisis has exceeded $1 trillion from 2001 through 2017 and is on track to cost $500bn from 2018 to 2020 alone. In addition to the CEA’s opioid fatality figures, Altarum estimates 70,000 Americans (this figure includes opioid as well as non-opioid fatalities) as having fatally overdosed from opioids in 2017 – the worst year on record.

Jan-Mar 2019 Issue

Fraser Tennant