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Opioid epidemic costs Americans almost $80 billion per year, study says

Researchers found significant costs for extra healthcare and lost work productivity linked to fatal and nonfatal overdoses from opioid drugs.

By
Stephen Feller
New research shows the huge monetary cost of the opioid epidemic in the United States -- $78 billion per year -- for additional healthcare, as well as lost work productivity and the criminal justice system. Photo by blu fish design/Shutterstock
New research shows the huge monetary cost of the opioid epidemic in the United States -- $78 billion per year -- for additional healthcare, as well as lost work productivity and the criminal justice system. Photo by blu fish design/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Opioid-based painkillers are the standard for pain treatment, but the drugs have been linked to an epidemic of misuse and addiction, and are costing Americans billions of dollars beyond the health conditions they are meant to treat.

The overuse, misuse and abuse of opioid-based painkillers is costing the United States about $78 billion per year for additional care, lost work productivity and the criminal justice system, according to a new study published in the journal Medical Care.

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With nearly 2 million people in the United States meeting criteria for opioid abuse or dependence, and about 16,000 deaths linked to overdoses of the drugs, the researchers say recognizing the total impact of the epidemic is relatively wide.

"The costs that we can identify, however, do help increase our understanding of the impact of the epidemic," the researchers write in the study. "These estimates can assist decision makers in understanding the magnitude of adverse health outcomes associated with prescription opioid use such as overdose, abuse, and dependence."

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Researchers at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reviewed data from the National Vital Statistics System, National Survey of Drug Use and Health, Truven Health MarketScan Research and cost estimates published by the U.S. Department of Justice to estimate the aggregate costs of prescription opioid drug abuse.

Overall, the total cost linked to overdose, abuse and dependence on the drugs was estimated at more than $78.5 billion, with spending for healthcare and substance abuse treatment coming at more than $28 billion of that total.

Non-fatal abuse and overdose cases cost about $20 billion for lost productivity, either because of people's lost hours at work or lost production from people incarcerated for reasons linked to the drugs. Fatal overdoses cost about $21.5 billion, which includes costs linked to both healthcare and lost productivity. On top of this, there is about $7.7 billion in criminal justice-related costs.

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"More than 40 Americans die each day from overdoses involving prescription opioids," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a press release. "Families and communities continue to be devastated by the epidemic of prescription opioid overdoses. The rising cost of the epidemic is also a tremendous burden for the health care system."

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