The real cost of the United State’s worsening opioid crisis appears to be significantly higher than we previously thought. According to a new analysis from the Council of Economic Advisers, the opioid crisis cost the U.S. an astonishing $504 billion in 2015. That’s nearly six and half times greater than the amount estimated by a privately-funded study from 2016, which put the opioid crisis cost at just $78.5 billion in 2013.
So what’s responsible for the dramatic spike in the cost of the opioid epidemic?
It’s not just the accelerating problem of addiction, the new study says. It’s because, unlike previous investigations, the new study calculated the cost of overdose deaths.
Overdose Fatalities Left Out Of Previous Reports About Opioid Crisis Cost
Last month, Trump catapulted the nation’s opioid crisis to the forefront of his administration’s public health priorities. On October 26, Trump made a statement declaring drug addiction and opioid abuse a National Public Health Emergency.
“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don’t start, they won’t have a problem,” Trump said.
But critics of Trump’s plan point out that the declaration falls far short of offering meaningful action.
Unlike a National Emergency declaration, which would have put some $23 billion dollars at the disposal of combating the crisis, the government’s National Public Health Emergency fund only has about $57,000 available.
That’s not even a dollar for each death from drug overdoses last year, which climbed to 64,000 last year. Today, overdose fatalities are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.
The Council of Economic Advisors’ report throws the inadequacy of the Trump administration’s efforts into even sharper relief. With the opioid crisis cost topping half a trillion dollars, a Public Health Emergency comes nowhere close to making the resources available that could have a meaningful impact on reducing addiction and abuse.
And it’s unlikely that the new estimates will prompt the Trump administration to change course.
The president’s own commission, tasked with studying the opioid problem, seems to be walking back its more ambitious proposals. In an interim report, the commission insisted on an emergency declaration. Its final report, however, called for no new money to address the crisis.
As Overdose Deaths Double, Opioid Crisis Cost Skyrockets To $504 Billion
According to the White House’s own figures, 300,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses since 2000. And in 2016, more than two million Americans had prescription or illicit opioid addictions.
But previous studies, funded by private organizations, only examined a fraction of the costs of the opioid epidemic.
One such study, which examined costs in 2013, only looked at costs associated with health care, criminal justice spending, and the economic impact of lost productivity.
Yet that study left out the impact caused by illicit opioids like heroin and did not factor fatalities.
The new report from the Council of Economic Advisers says that these previous estimates of the opioid crisis cost “greatly underestimate it by undervaluing the most important component of the loss—fatalities resulting from overdoses,” according to CNBC.
With a problem of such magnitude—half a trillion dollars—a diversified and well-funded approach is clearly needed. Yet experts doubt that the president’s plan—more drug courts, doctor training and penalties for insurers, without any new funds—will do much to halt the spread of the epidemic.