White House: Opioid Crisis Cost U.S. $2.5 Trillion from 2015 to 2018

The opioid epidemic cost the U.S. an estimated $696 billion in 2018 alone — and more than $2.5 trillion total from 2015 to 2018, according to new estimates from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). 

The White House released those numbers last week, demonstrating the continued importance of substance abuse treatment facilities nationwide.

However, CEA’s figures are more than three times higher than recent calculations from the Society of Actuaries, which estimated that the economic burden of the opioid epidemic was at least $631 billion for the same four-year period. 

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The large cost discrepancy comes down to the factors used to calculate the estimates. Specifically, CEA accounted for the “value of a statistical life,” while the Society of Actuaries did not, the White House wrote in a press release announcing the news. 

“VSLs are commonly used by regulators for benefit-cost analyses and regulatory impact analyses,” the press release said. “CEA prefers this comprehensive measure because the opioid crisis not only increases costs and lowers productivity throughout the economy, it also prematurely ends lives, which have value beyond their effect on economic output.” 

Meanwhile, to reach their findings, the Society of Actuaries tabulated costs associated with health care services for those impacted by opioid use disorder (OUD), premature mortality, criminal justice activities, child and family assistance programs, education programs and lost productivity.

CEA’s yearly 2018 estimate of $696 billion is more than 38% higher than what it was in 2015, for which the council estimated the cost of the opioid epidemic that year was $504 billion. 

However, CEA’s latest report shows that opioid costs could be falling, if opioid deaths are any indicator.

There were 47,600 opioid deaths nationwide in 2017. Meanwhile, provisional data shows that deaths decreased in 2018. 

The White House credits increased funding for treatment, a decrease in opioid prescriptions, improved opioid education and enhanced security as successful solutions that lead to the decrease. 

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