The Trillion-Dollar Opioid Substance Abuse Crisis

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Thanks to the worsening opioid crisis in the U.S., substance abuse is the new hot topic, and that’s a good thing, because anything that helps to make us more aware of this problem, and triggers more solutions is welcome.

From the White House to local legislators, lawmakers are trying to implement measures that will help fund more addiction treatment, while also stemming the number of illicit drugs that are flooding the streets.

We’ve heard sad and startling overdose statistics, and we’ve lamented the shortfall in treatment facilities that is keeping addicts on long waitlists.

But what we haven’t heard as much about is the economic consequences of the opioid crisis. In other words, what kind of money are we spending to fund treatment, put more law enforcement officers on the streets, and to jail people who are found guilty of opioid-related crimes?

Let’s take a look at some of the obvious and not-so-obvious costs of the opioid crisis and learn why these costs could have a long-lasting impact.

Explaining the Roots of the Opioid Crisis

Before we dive into the economic impact of opioid abuse, we should try explaining the roots of the opioid crisis, and why it’s become such a major issue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that about 115 people in the U.S. die of an opioid overdose every day. When we talk about ‘opioids,’ we’re not just talking about prescription painkillers, we are also talking about illegal opiates like heroin, and synthetic opioids, which are many times more potent. (1)

The question many of you are probably asking is why opioid abuse became so bad so quickly, and why many healthcare experts didn’t see this coming. The answer isn’t simple, because the opioid crisis is the result of a combination of factors that created a perfect storm.

Twenty years ago, big pharmaceutical companies began manufacturing new brands of prescription pain relievers that they advertised as effective and non-addictive. Doctors throughout the U.S. were sold on these promises, and they began prescribing opioids to patients in record numbers.

Unfortunately, patients quickly discovered that as these pills controlled their pain, they also released powerful chemicals in their brains that created a high. Even after their pain was under control, these patients would crave the pleasurable feelings produced by opioids, and within a short period of time, they became addicted to painkillers.

Over the next decade, the rate of opioid overdoses began to skyrocket even as doctors began to cut back on prescribing these medications.

The problem was that patients who couldn’t get prescriptions for painkillers would often move on to the next best thing, illegal drugs like heroin that produced the exact same effects.

In 2015, 33,000 people died from an opioid overdose, and those opioids included prescription painkillers, heroin and synthetic opioids. That doesn’t tell the full story, because two million people also admitted to a substance abuse disorder involving prescription opioids in 2015, and more than 500,000 people admitted to struggling with heroin abuse.

Studies have also found that in addition to prescription pill abuse, the opioid crisis is also driven by other factors, including:

Low-Income – Studies have found that the opioid crisis has impacted poorer communities to a greater degree than middle-class and upper-class communities. Some of the reasons include lack of access to counseling and to healthcare.

People On Medicaid – People on Medicaid are more likely to suffer from substance abuse related to opioids. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said this is because people on Medicaid are more likely to be prescribed opioids, at higher doses, and for longer durations, increasing their risk for addiction and its associated consequences. (2)

Economic Downturn – the 2008 economic downturn forced many companies to lay off workers, and many of them were middle-aged workers in industrial jobs that required less formal education. Some of these laid-off workers were unable to find new jobs, and the stress from their circumstance lead some of them to fall into drug use and addiction.

The Costs of the Opioid Crisis

As an increasing number of people fall prey to fatal opioid-related overdoses, the costs of the opioid crisis in human terms continue to grow more expensive.

But in real dollars and cents, there are some staggering numbers to consider, including: (3)

$1 Trillion – The total estimated toll of the opioid crisis on the U.S. economy from 2001 to 2017.

$500 Billion – The total estimated amount of money that heroin addiction and prescription opioid abuse will cost the U.S. from 2018 to 2020.

$217.5 Billion – The total estimated healthcare costs of the opioid crisis from 2001 to 2017.

62,000 – The number of estimated people who suffered from a fatal opioid-related overdose in 2017. If this number holds, it will double the name of fatalities from just two years ago.

The bulk of the economic costs are related to lost wages due to people missing work because of opioid abuse, and lost productivity.

That also impacts tax revenue that state and local governments can collect, because missing workers can’t produce profits for companies, and those profits can’t be taxed, because they don’t exist.

Other economic costs include money spent on funding treatment facilities, social services and education, and costs related to prosecuting and defending drug-related charges.

In February, President Trump’s budget proposal included $17 billion to fight opioid abuse, including increasing healthcare services for treatment and recovery, and for mental health.

The Role of Treatment Facilities

Some suffering from addiction believe that they can overcome substance abuse on their own, but that rarely works, and every failure highlights the important role of treatment facilities. Serenity at Summit New Jersey Addiction Treatment Centers in Union are only 40 minutes from New York City, and offer a full range of services, including detox and rehab. Call us today at 844-432-0416 to learn all your treatment options.