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US opioid epidemic: true cost of $500 billion, warn White House economists

The toll from the opiod crisis in the US also represented 2.8% of the GDP that year 

20 November 2017, 3:02pm
Opioid drug abuse, which has ravaged parts of the United States in recent years, is said to have cost the US economy as much as $504 billion in 2015, White House economists said in a report made public on Sunday.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) said the toll from the opioid crisis represented 2.8 percent of gross domestic product that year.

Last month, US president Donald Trump declared that the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

While Republican lawmakers said that was an important step in fighting opioid abuse, some critics, including Democrats, said the move was meaningless without additional funding.

The report could be used by the Trump White House to urge Republicans in Congress - who historically have opposed increasing government spending - to provide more funding for fighting the opioid crisis by arguing that the economic losses far outweigh the cost of additional government funding.

Using a combination of statistical models, the CEA said the lost economic output stemming from 33,000 opioid-related deaths in 2015 could be between $221 billion and $431 billion, depending on the methodology used.

In addition, the report looked at the cost of non-fatal opioid usage, estimating a total of $72 billion for 2.4 million people with opioid addictions in 2015.

Those costs included medical treatment, criminal justice system expenses and the decreased economic productivity of addicts.

The CEA said its estimate was larger than those of some prior studies because it took a broad look at the value of lives lost to overdoses and that its methodology incorporated an adjustment to reflect the fact that opioids were underreported on death certificates.

"The crisis has worsened, especially in terms of overdose deaths which have doubled in the past ten years," the CEA said.

"While previous studies have focused exclusively on prescription opioids, we consider illicit opioids including heroin as well."

Opioids, primarily prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, are fuelling the drug overdoses. More than 100 Americans die daily from related overdoses, according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.