Today, in Recognition of National recovery Month, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC)—led by Chairman Don Beyer (D-VA)—released a new analysis that finds the opioid epidemic cost the United States a record of nearly $1.5 trillion in 2020. This is up 37% from 2017, when the CDC last measured the cost.
After the pandemic disrupted the U.S. health care system, reducing access to substance abuse treatment and exacerbating social and economic stress that can worsen addiction, opioid use increased. Data show the highest numbers of fatal opioid overdoses ever reported in 2020 and 2021—69,061 and 80,926 fatalities, respectively—and opioids are now the main driver of drug overdose deaths.
In addition to the toll on families and loved ones, opioid use imposes significant economy-wide costs. Adapting a methodology used by the CDC to estimate the cost of the opioid epidemic in 2017, the JEC estimates the opioid epidemic cost $1.04 trillion in 2018, $985 billion in 2019 and nearly $1.5 trillion in 2020. The rise in fatal opioid overdoses in 2021 suggests the total cost is likely to continue to increase.
While the majority of those who overdose from opioids are white, Black communities are now disproportionately impacted by the opioid crisis; disparities in health care access and barriers to treatment combine to exacerbate racial and economic inequality.
“Without question, the greatest tragedies of the opioid epidemic continue to be the lives lost, the families and communities they’ve left behind and the many who are still struggling with addiction,” said JEC Chairman Beyer. “But what the new JEC estimates make clear is just how disastrous this crisis has also been for our entire economy. Just as the pandemic exacerbated many societal inequities, it also disrupted treatment and created new health challenges that worsened our country’s opioid problem. As a nation, we are now less healthy, less economically competitive and less secure as a result of the opioid epidemic that continues to ravage our country. We must continue to take action to address this public health and economic crisis.”
“It has become abundantly clear that the opioid epidemic is not only a health crisis, but also an economic and national security one,” said Congressman David Trone (D-MD), Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force. “With the epidemic now taking a $1.5 trillion annual toll on our economy, our nation is more vulnerable due to our inaction. Over the last two years, the nation has rallied behind a common cause, investing trillions into research and treatment to cure the Coronavirus. Now, it’s time to do the same for the opioid epidemic. With incalculable human cost and a staggering economic impact, this epidemic deserves urgent, collective action on a national scale.”
Federal, state and local governments have increased investments in drug treatment and prevention programs. The President has emphasized harm reduction and called for a whole of government approach to beating the overdose epidemic as part of his Unity Agenda. Last week, the White House announced it was awarding $1.5 billion to all states and territories to address the epidemic, which is in addition to the nearly $5.5 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan Act and other Biden Administration actions in 2021 to fund treatment programs across states and territories.