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, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

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. 

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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