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November 21, 2017

Opioid misuse cost US more than $500B in 2015, White House says

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The opioid misuse epidemic cost the United States more than $500 billion in 2015, according to an analysis released Monday by the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).

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Analysis details

The analysis is CEA's first on costs associated with the U.S. opioid misuse epidemic. CEA for the analysis estimated the costs associated with the epidemic by:

  • Accounting for the value of lives lost because of opioid misuse;
  • Adjusting the number of opioid drug-related overdose deaths to take into account the underreporting of such fatalities; and
  • Including costs associated with the misuse of illicit opioids, such as heroin, as well as prescription painkillers.

According to the Financial Times, previous analyses on the opioid misuse epidemic's economic effects narrowly focused on factors such as health care costs and lost earnings, but CEA said the White House analysis "fully account[s] for perhaps the epidemic's greatest cost, the value of lives lost due to opioid-related overdose."

According to Politico's "Pulse," some health care policy experts have questioned the methodology CEA used for the analysis, noting that CEA said it quantified the full "value of a statistical life" instead of only including projected income losses that resulted from premature deaths.


CEA estimated that the opioid misuse epidemic cost the United States about $504 billion in 2015, including about $431.7 billion in costs related to opioid misuse fatalities and $72.3 billion in non-fatality costs—such as health care and criminal justice costs, the Financial Times reports.

According to the analysis, the total cost of the opioid misuse epidemic in 2015 was equivalent to nearly 3% of the United States' annual gross domestic product.

CEA estimated that about 41,000 U.S. residents died in 2015 due to an opioid-drug related overdose. CEA wrote that the opioid misuse "crisis has worsened, especially in terms of overdose deaths which have doubled in the past 10 years."

CEA said it "plans to issue" more reports on the opioid misuse epidemic "to provide policymakers with the economic analysis needed to review and assess potential policy options," adding, "A better understanding of the economic causes contributing to the crisis is crucial for evaluating the success of various interventions to combat it" (Roubein, The Hill, 11/19; AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/20; Fleming, Financial Times, 11/19; Diamond, "Pulse," Politico, 11/20).

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