As of July of 2019, the CDC recorded a 5.6% decline in US opioid overdose deaths, the first time this number has dropped since 1999. During this period from 1999 to 2019, there have been almost 400,000 overdose deaths related to misuse of opioids, and every day an estimated 130 people die from opioid overdoses1.
The crisis began in the 1990s when the assurance to the medical community that prescription painkillers were not addictive to patients boosted the number of doctors prescribing opioid painkillers2. The accessible pills were easily stolen and distributed, leading to an increase in misuse in both patients and those within close proximity to the patient, such as friends and family.
The results of the opioid crisis have been devastating and the effects on the economy have been undeniable.
Selena Simmons-Duffin with National Public Radio (NPR), highlighted the 2018 cost from the Society of Actuaries in their article, The Real Cost Of The Opioid Epidemic, in which the cost was calculated to a total of $179 billion for just the year of 2018. This total considers the costs borne by the entirety of society: from government-funded services to impacts on individuals, families, employers, and more.
The following breakdown offers more clarity into the different areas affected by the epidemic in 2018:
Making up nearly half of the financial cost is overdose deaths, which makes up $72.6 billion, or approximately 41% of the total financial impact. This calculation encompasses the cost of end of life care, though most of it is made up of lost lifetime earnings since a majority of deaths occurred when the patient was 25 to 55 years old, in optimal working years.
Following closely, the second largest cost was health care, composing of a calculated $60.4 billion, almost 34%. Researchers compared patients with and without addiction over several large databases for all healthcare costs, not just costs directly related to their addiction but also finances for other health issues linked to opioid addiction including chronic illnesses, infectious diseases, and other diseases they become more susceptible to.
The next portion of financial cost is lost productivity, adding up to $26.5 billion, or about 14.8%. Due to the nature of addiction, many of those with opioid misuse have difficulty holding a job or may be unable to work. The calculated total encapsulates things like absenteeism, short and long-term disability, the costs that fall on employers, as well as the costs for families that may not have had a stable income due to lost productivity.
Criminal justice made up $10.9 billion, or approximately 6%. Costs that were calculated included costs related to police, court cases, correctional facilities and property lost to crime (NPR). Patients with opioid addiction have a higher chance of being involved in the criminal justice system: NPR reports that only 3% of the general population have been involved, but for people with opioid misuse the percentage increased to 20%.
Child and Family Assistance & Education
The last portion of financial cost is made up of child and family assistance and education, which amounted to $9 billion, approximately 5%. The researchers looked into the total costs for things like food assistance, child welfare, income and housing assistance, and education then calculated what portion of that may have been connected to opioid use.
From the immediate devastation of lives lost to the long-term recovery for all of those affected, the opioid epidemic has had a costly impact on individuals, our healthcare system, and the government. Though the battle against opioid misuse is still ongoing, the decline of US overdose deaths highlights a potential turnaround for the future.
1. Simmons-Duffin, S. (2019, October 24). The Real Cost Of The Opioid Epidemic: An Estimated $179 Billion In Just 1 Year. Retrieved November 10, 2019, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/10/24/773148861/calculating-the-real-costs-of-the-opioid-epidemic
2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 22). Opioid Overdose Crisis. Retrieved November 10, 2019, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis