The Cost of the Opioid Crisis: $95 Billion in 2016
Written by Editor   
Monday, November 27, 2017 07:29 AM

The benefits of putting an end to the opioid crisis exceeded $95 billion in 2016 underscoring the importance of swift investment in evidence-based interventions.

The largest contributor to the current economic burden of this crisis —$43.2 billion— is the economic impact from loss of life due to overdoses. In 2016 alone, the number of overdose deaths reached 53,054, placing this in the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. An additional $12.4 billion economic burden is due to loss of productivity from non-fatal use, which also contributes to the $24.6 billion in health care services for all those who suffer from opioid dependencies. Government services foot some $18.3 billion borne by the criminal justice system ($7.8b), child and family assistance services ($6.1b) and education costs ($4.4b).

A relatively small amount  is currently spent on opioid prevention and treatment efforts. Increasing that amount could reduce the number of overdose fatalities and yield substantial benefits to the public and private sectors.

This new figure is the most recent estimate of the total economic benefit that would accrue to the nation if this crisis was ended, and shows that failure to invest in action to stop the crisis continues to take a toll on the broader economy and state and local government. The federal government alone assumed $29.2 billion of the costs associated with the crisis, primarily in the form of lost tax revenue, health care costs, and criminal justice-related costs. But the heaviest burden is shouldered by the private sector because of the loss of potential workers, loss of productivity from current workers, and the net economic benefit that accrues from productive citizens.

This analysis does not take into account the emotional cost of the opioid crisis to communities and families. It does not look at decreased quality of life, emotional burdens of substance use and the loss of loved ones, decreased property values, the impacts on children of parents facing opioid addiction. Nor does it include an estimate of the overall cost of a life. As a result, the total societal burden is underestimated and, consequently, the net benefit to the United States of ending the opioid crisis is likely well in excess of $100 billion. 

Additionally, preliminary data on the scale of the epidemic in 2017 indicate deaths, overdoses, and associated costs are unfortunately likely to rise above 2016 levels, pushing this estimate even higher.