The opioid epidemic is devastating this country one community at a time. And it must be stopped.
Opioids are a highly addictive class of drugs that include illicit heroin as well as prescription medications OxyContin, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. The legal versions of these medications provide necessary therapy for people suffering from severe pain from cancer or serious injuries. But more and more often, these painkillers are being prescribed for lesser maladies, a problem that is contributing to the rising number of addictions and overdoses in the U.S. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 11.5 million people were misusing opioids in 2016, and more than 2 million were classified as having an opioid disorder.
These powerful opioids are killing in droves. More than 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, according to HHS. There is no demographic that has not been affected in this crisis. It destroys lives regardless of age, race, wealth, or location.
The economic costs are staggering, ringing in at about $504 billion nationally, according to a 2017 report by the Council of Economic Advisors. The agency, which is charged with advising the President on economic issues affecting the U.S., put the cost of lives lost by opioid overdoses at $417 billion. The remaining $72.3 billion is made up of non-fatal consequences like health care for substance abuse treatment, criminal justice, and reduced productivity of the 2.4 million people suffering from opioid use disorders who survived as of 2015.
It’s challenging to put a price tag on the damage the opioid epidemic has caused each of our communities. However, a Minnesota county attempted this task to better understand the impact these drugs have had on their economy. Hennepin County Deputy Administrator Jennifer DeCubellis’s exhaustive report revealed that no major government-spending category in the county was left untouched by the crisis.
Most notably, Hennepin County spent $122 million for child protection services in 2016 – twice as much as in 2008. In that time, reports of child abuse dramatically increased, and foster care placements jumped a staggering 70 percent. Drug abuse was blamed for 90 percent of the placements for children younger than 5. Even the number of babies born addicted to opioids is expected to jump a heartbreaking 113 percent by next year.
DeCubellis also discovered that about 40 percent of the county’s jail population was serving time for opioid-related charges. Even the medical examiner reported $400,000 in additional spending due to opioid-related autopsies.
According to the report, Hennepin County – with a population of about 1.2 million – spent $2.3 billion from its general fund to cover costs related to the opioid epidemic. Imagine if other cities, counties and states across the nation did the same math?
This is just a foreshadowing to the catastrophic devastation that will only continue to grow until this wrong is righted. We must hold accountable the pharmaceutical companies, drug distributors, and pharmacies that have created and continue to fuel this tragic opioid epidemic, before it destroys our communities and our nation as a whole.
American Society of Addiction Medicine
Council of Economic Advisors