Opioid crisis costs US economy $1 trillion, problem continues to grow: study

2018-02-13 | The Patriot-News

Feb. 13--The opioid epidemic has had an expensive toll on the U.S. in human losses and a new study released Tuesday estimates that the opioid crisis has cost has exceeded $1 trillion.

That $1 trillion price tag includes lost wages to individuals, private sector health care costs, tax revenue to governments and additional spending on health care, social services, education and criminal justice. The study released by Altarum, a non-profit health systems and consulting organization, also anticipates the crisis will cost the U.S an additional $500 billion by 2020 if "concerted and sustained action to address the crisis is not taken" and current use and mortality rates persist.

Altarum calculated the costs looking at the reduction in costs to public and private expenditures to as a result of opioid-related harms through such things law enforcement costs. The company also looked at economic benefits such as lost earnings from substance abuse disorders and related deaths. Those deaths were estimated by Christopher Ruhm's "Geographic Variation in Opioid and Heroin Involved Drug Poisoning Mortality Rates" from the December 2017 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The financial impact of the crisis has ballooned exponentially since 2001 when the estimated cost was about $29.1 billion. In 2017, the cost was an estimated $115 billion. The growth rate between 2011 and 2016 was double the rate in the previous five years. The growth rate is expected to grow, hence the estimate of a half a billion dollars in costs over the next three years.

At least 62,6500 people died of an overdose based on mortality estimates from June. Lost earnings and productivity from those who die of an overdose costs about $800,000 per person, adjusting for an average overdose age of 41.

Health care costs as a result of the opioid epidemic has exceeded $215 billion from 2001 to 2017. Those costs largely come from emergency room visits and immediate treatment of the patients, and secondary treatments because of increased risk of other diseases or complications. While the number of uninsured overdose patients has dropped, states now bear more of the burden in those additional health costs, according to the report.

Altarum offered the following recommendations to address the human toll of the opioid crisis:

--Prevention. Educating clinicians on the appropriate use of opioids and alternatives to treat pain; monitoring opioid prescribing and targeting high prescribers; encouraging benefits managers to explore drug tiers to create higher financial barriers to accessing opioids; and working with insurers to encourage alternatives for managing chronic pain.

--Treatment. Payment and delivery system reform to engage clinicians and community support services to better manage the needs of substance users; and encouraging employers to provide value-based insurance design features to remove barriers to treatment.

--Recovery. In-depth understanding of the length of time to get substance users to recover from the dependency and to facilitate access to the essential local support services that are key to more successful recovery rates.

Study authors noted that the human costs are immeasurable and cannot be quantified. They added that the toll on families and communities is vitally important to comprehensive analysis of the crisis.