Recent Data Paints Bleak Picture of the Cost of the U.S. Opioid Crisis

PR Newswire PR Newswire • January 23, 2020

The opioid epidemic has had an intense impact on the nation. While it is difficult to deny the emotional toll endured by the families affected by opioid misuse, there are more tangible ways of measuring the issue. A recent release by NPR uncovered a startling amount of information about the actual financial cost of the opioid epidemic. According to this research, rising problems with opioid addiction has cost roughly $179 billion to various entities. To understand how this figure breaks down, take a look at these facts about the actual cost of this crisis.

Who Conducted the Research?

First, it is important to note who is responsible for this research. Although NPR reported the findings, the actual studies were completed by the Society of Actuaries, a nonpartisan group dedicated to provide objective data based around well-researched findings. The most startling fact from the research is that the cost burden is shared by everyone across communities: government groups, taxpayers, private organizations and individual families all are tasked with handling the costs that come with this public health crisis.

Making Financial Sense of the Opioid Crisis

There are several factors that contribute to this total. The largest chunk centers around the costs associated with overdoses. The report released by the Society of Actuaries states that roughly $72.6 billion of the total is related to services aimed at treating patients who have overdosed. Whether or not the overdose is fatal, and it often is, there are many expensive services involved. From emergency care to hospital visits to funeral arrangements, the cost of overdosing is incredibly high. Take into account that approximately 133 people are said to die from overdose each day, and that number is growing.

Missed Potential

Much of the data obtained about opioid overdose has been used to make projected estimates that paint a bleak picture about missed economic opportunities. Reports have reported an increase in deaths in people between the ages of 25 and 55 from the opioid crisis. These are considered a healthy person’s prime working years, and financial projections suggest that the economy will take a major hit in the billions of dollars from lost labor.

Pain and Suffering

While taking these financial statistics and applying them to the widespread problem of opioid addiction can illuminate certain important bits of data, one must also remember the pain and suffering caused by the epidemic. There is a ripple effect whenever a family loses a member from drug addiction or related complications. Studies suggest that family members may suffer from psychological and physical health troubles, and some may even fall into dangerous habits that lead to alcoholism and other addictions. The costs associated with these scenarios are also factored into the total cost of the crisis.

Health Complications

Drug addiction is a form of disease in and of itself, and it can also be a gateway to a number of other serious health concerns. These additional healthcare services are said to make up more than $40 billion of the total estimated cost of the opioid epidemic. When a heroin user is not careful with the needles he or she uses to inject the drug, for example, there is a huge risk of spreading disease. Medical facilities have reported a spike in HIV cases caused by sharing needles in recent years.

Law and Order

The health sector may take the biggest hit in this crisis, but several other fields are substantially involved in the total cost of the epidemic. According to the report, legal services contributed about $10.9 billion to the cost of the opioid situation. These costs ranged from the expenses related to operating a police-sanctioned drug raid to the expenses incurred by families looking to hire a lawyer to help a loved one through charges of narcotic possession. It also includes areas like parole officers and other services associated with post-trial rehabilitation.

Who Can Fix the Problem?

While these hard figures and projections can shed a bit of light on the severity of the problem, it will take more than awareness to defeat the issue. Many state governments are taking action and using this data to guide future decisions. If the crisis costs several billions of dollars each year and a solution will only cost a few million, legislators are realizing proactive steps can save money and lives. Of course, the debate still rages over whether or not high-earning pharmaceutical companies should shoulder the financial burden of solving the problem.

The opioid crisis is no small issue, and exploring research conducted by trustworthy, third-party organizations like the Society of Actuaries can be helpful to put the epidemic into perspective. The staggering financial and emotional costs of this crisis will continue to grow until people become educated, raise awareness and demand change.

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