Cost of Opioid Epidemic Far Higher Than Previously Thought

The total economic cost of the opioid epidemic could be as high as $504 billion in 2015 alone, or about 2.8 percent of the national gross domestic product, according to a study just released by the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). This figure is more than six times higher than prior estimates of the epidemic’s costs.

Arguing that previous estimates greatly underestimate the costs of opioid-related fatalities, the CEA conducted a more inclusive review of relevant data in calculating its estimates. One significant difference from previous studies is that the council included deaths involving illicit opioids such as heroin as well as those involving only prescription opioids.

In another significant departure from previous methods, the CEA also adjusted the number of opioid-related deaths upward, based on recent research estimating that the number of opioid-involved overdose deaths is 24 percent higher than reported on death certificates. Applying this adjustment to the established 33,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2015 provides a new estimate of 41,033 deaths. The report projected the lost economic output due to these opioid-related deaths to be between $221 billion and $431 billion, depending on the methodology used to run the calculation. The vast majority of this amount is attributed to lost potential wages.

The report also calculated the cost of nonfatal opioid usage at $72 billion for the estimated 2.4 million people who struggled with opioid addictions in 2015. The nonfatal consequences considered in the report included the costs of medical treatment, decreased employee productivity, and increased participation in the criminal justice system.

To read the report, click here: