White House: Economic cost of opioid crisis about $504B

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The economic cost of the opioid epidemic was about $504 billion in 2015, more than six times higher than other studies from previous years, according to a newly released analysis from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).

This figure accounts for roughly 2.8 percent of gross domestic product. The opioid crisis has garnered the national spotlight, as it has led to a significant uptick in overdose deaths since 1999 and, most recently, was declared a national public health emergency by President Trump.


CEA said the report, which will be released Monday, was needed because “in assessing the benefits of fiscal and regulatory policies that limit opioid abuse in the United States, it is important to understand the costs associated with the epidemic that policies might mitigate.”

The council noted that data on fatalities underestimate the number of deaths related to opioids. In 2015, there were more than 33,000 reported opioid-related deaths, but because fatalities are underreported, CEA pegged the number closer to about 41,000 deaths.

CEA’s analysis on the economic cost is much higher than previous studies, because it adjusted for underreporting of fatalities and accounted for the value of lives lost using a method federal agencies typically use. Also, previous studies only took into account the cost of prescription painkillers, but CEA’s analysis included illicit opioids, like heroin.

This is the council’s first report on the opioid crisis, and it plans to issue more.

Policymakers and advocates are grappling with ways to curb the crisis. The president’s commission to address the opioid epidemic recently issued its final report, which called for more drug courts and a national media blitz among its more than 50 recommendations.

Democratic lawmakers and many advocates are calling for a substantial infusion of federal funds, and were disappointed that the emergency declaration didn’t come with millions of dollars or a funding ask to Congress.


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