The Opioid Epidemic Is Devastating. It’s Also Really Expensive.

A White House report tallies up the costs of the historic drug crisis.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

The opioid epidemic, which each year claims more lives than the entirety of American deaths in the Vietnam War, is also a growing financial burden.

According to a new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the epidemic cost the nation $504 billion in 2015—about 2.8 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. And that figure has likely increased substantially, as 2016 brought a 21 percent increase in overdose deaths.

The estimate is more than six times higher than previous estimates, largely because it includes the cost of lost productivity of those who died of overdoses—a standard practice for evaluating public health problems as federal agencies determine which issues to prioritize. It also used more recent overdose figures and accounted for both prescription and illicit drug use. Last year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers pegged the cost of prescription drug abuse in 2013 at $78.5 billion.

“A better understanding of the economic causes contributing to the crisis is crucial for evaluating the success of various interventions to combat it,” read the report, noting that the council plans to research the cost of proposed and actual solutions to the epidemic.

President Trump has repeatedly acknowledged the need to address the epidemic, which, he said Monday, is “ravaging so many American families and communities.” The president declared a public health state of emergency last month, but stopped short of allocating new funding to address the epidemic. Meanwhile, repealing Obamacare would cut insurance coverage for an estimated 2.8 million Americans suffering from addiction disorders. 

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.