Already the deadliest drug overdose crisis in American history, a new study has found the opioid crisis could also be the most expensive, costing the federal government $26 billion and state governments $11.8 billion in both “lost tax revenue” and “employment reductions.” If lawmakers want to maintain their status as either “the party of fiscal responsibility” or as “the party of workers,” these findings signal a need for solutions heading into the 2020 elections.
In the study, which was published in the “Medical Care” academic journal, researchers analyzed data from both the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to calculate the economic losses the government has faced between 2000 and 2016. Due to opioid misuse, addiction, or overdose, these losses were considerably greater in states such as Pennsylvania ($638m) and California ($843m) compared to that of Alaska ($0) and New Hampshire ($0) where taxes weren’t considered under their analysis.
While researchers are fair to state these are simply estimates, subject to change as new evidence arises, the study does offer considerable numbers to back up the reported severity of the crisis. Ever since big pharma giants began driving opioids into the market in the 1990’s, headed by Oxycotin-pushers like Purdue Pharma, the mortal reality started catching up with the average worker. By 2017, the CDC found over 70,000 US deaths related to drug overdoses, the vast majority linked to opioid products. It makes sense that with the death of countless fathers, mothers and colleagues come the death of budgets. As the saying goes: a healthy worker is a productive worker, and work doesn’t matter if you’re dead.
As reported by Vox, the economics surrounding the opioid crisis goes beyond just tax revenue. Journalist German Lopez cites a 2016 study, also published by Medical Care, which found $78.5 billion in expenses and lost earnings across all sectors since 2013. He cites another 2017 report from the health care research group Altarum which put this cost at around $95 billion for 2016 alone. This all pales in comparison to the cited 2017 White House analysis which estimated an incredible $504 billion cost in 2015, at least when accounting for the activities these drug users were adding back into the economy before their death.
Any of the estimates — including the most conservative of the bunch — should strike economic fear in the minds of lawmakers expected to make policy and changes rather than send thoughts and prayers. Members of the medical and policy communities have suggested the federal government invest “tens of billions of dollars” into the areas of “treatment, prevention, and harm reduction efforts.”
In the recent lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, an Oklahoma judge ruled the company was to pay over $270M of their settlement into such measures as well as development of anti-addictive alternatives for current users. Another $75 million in personal earnings is to be donated to treatment centres by the Sackler family, Purdue’s owners.
“Instead of continuing on in court for many, many years, we have a settlement with a significant amount of money, to be used immediately,” said Gary Mendell, founder of the anti-addiction group Shatterproof, who spoke with The Washington Post. “To spare other families from having to bury a child, today was a very good day.”
As a lefty who can do the math, however, one rich family with a couple million in spare change simply isn’t enough. By the force of law, the private market only addressed the problem after it was found legally culpable for fanning the flames of addiction as a decades-long business model. The public sector, alternatively, simply lacks initiative. Lopez does point out a bipartisan Congress has invested their “single-digit billions here and there,” but this again only makes necessary steps that won’t cover costs. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a progressive presidential candidate, has proposed bold solutions of $100 billion in measures across the span of 10 years, which is what the studies indicate is required. Even still, how many thousand need to die before such a budget is passed? And could the government even afford it by the time the work-force slowly dies out?
An all-the-above approach needs to be enforced. Purdue is only one of a dozen other drug companies featured across the 1,600 pending lawsuits in cities, counties, states and tribal lands across America. The settlement is the start of a private solution, but it only came as the result of months of inquiry into the shady practice of an infamous offender. We can’t say other nefarious groups won’t fly under the radar with sly lawyers and good excuses, but their contributions can be as meaningful as the government, in both treatments and costs, when they’re forced to work. The government, in turn, needs to stop playing the useless entity of conservative stereotypes.
“Estimating damages that are closely tied to opioid misuse is critical for determining what funds states, and potentially the federal government, may be able to recover in litigation,” argued Joel Segel, Yunfeng Shi, John Moran, and Dennis Scanlon in the study.
“The estimates also have public health implications as damages paid to state or federal governments could potentially be allocated to opioid treatment and prevention efforts.”
Whether the federal officials will seize the opportunity for human decency is just that… potential.