Those of us on the outside of the opioid epidemic may view it only as an alarming moral or health issue, but there are also major economic factors at hand here, which affect the whole of society. According to the New Yorker article “The Cost of the Opioid Crisis,” by Sheelah Kolhatkar, this epidemic is causing vast on-going harm to the American economy in several ways, including increased health-care and criminal-justice-system costs, and decreased workplace productivity due to reduced workforce and earnings. These issues total an estimated cost of $78.5 billion. Not to mention the cost to all of society when those personally affected by opioid addiction can no longer contribute to the economy, in ways such as purchasing goods and services.
In the article “The Opiate Crisis and the Hidden Costs of Addiction” on additionblog.org, use of nonmedical prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs. These increased health-care costs result from treatment for drug abusers who overdose and survive due to receiving treatment, as well as expensive rehabilitation centers.
The New Yorker article states that, according to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, prescription pain pills were used by 97.5 million Americans in 2015, drug-overdose deaths have tripled since 2000, and more than a hundred Americans a day die from opioid abuse. Kolhatkar spoke with health economist and physician, Anupam Jena, regarding the dramatic cost of the loss of life and how the value of those lives costs the economy; he estimated that the loss of these lives costs approximately $100 to $150 billion dollars per year. He also stated that U.S. deaths due to prescription opioid use now exceeds the number of deaths in motor vehicle accidents.
With such clear facts on this epidemic, you would think our government would realize the importance of confronting this issue. Kolhatkar discusses how Donald Trump and other politicians acknowledge the crisis, but only focus on the impact on families and communities, and not on the harm to the American economy. Trump has spoken about an economic revival but has failed to address one of the most demanding issues of our time – the opioid crisis’ detriment to our economy. He has made several pledges to combat this crisis, even signing an executive order to create a commission led by Governor Christie. This commission has since urged Trump to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency, but to date, this has yet to happen, and no resources have been appointed to deal with this issue. In fact, Trump continues to push policies and federal budget proposals that would eliminate treatment and greatly diminish our ability to fight the epidemic.
If we want to strengthen the U.S. economy, we need to have serious conversations and policy changes concerning prevention and treatment of addiction. Trump should recognize that by addressing this crisis, he will not only positively impact a large portion of his voter base, but will also be tackling a huge inefficiency affecting the U.S. government and, thus, the American economy.