WASHINGTON—The economic cost of the opioid crisis in 2015 was $504 billion, or 2.8 percent of GDP, according to estimates from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).
This is over six times larger than the most recent estimated economic cost of the epidemic.
CEA said previous estimates greatly understated the economic cost by undervaluing the most important component of the loss: fatalities resulting from overdoses. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died of a drug overdose involving opioids.
The report also adjusts for underreporting of opioids in overdose deaths, includes heroin-related fatalities, and incorporates nonfatal costs of opioid misuse.
“Evidence suggests that drug overdoses related to opioids are underreported by as much as 24 percent, which would raise the estimated 2015 opioid overdose death toll to over 40,000,” the report states.
The CEA estimates the economic cost of these deaths using conventional economic estimates for valuing life routinely used by U.S. federal agencies.
Health care costs, justice system costs, and loss of productivity costs were all calculated, along with the cost of a life.
More than 64,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2016, according to preliminary numbers—representing 175 deaths a day last year.
The death toll so far in 2017 is even higher, mostly due to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil. Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency on Oct. 26. The declaration included ways to increase access to treatment and imposed stricter requirements on opioid prescriptions.
The opioid crisis was fueled by prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. Eighty percent of new heroin users start their habit with prescription opioids. When the prescription pills run out or become too expensive on the street, the new addict replaces them with heroin and, more recently, fentanyl.
A survey in 2016 found that 11.8 million Americans over the age of 12 had misused opioids, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“Together, we will face this challenge as a national family with conviction, with unity, and with a commitment to love and support our neighbors in times of dire need. Working together, we will defeat this opioid epidemic,” Trump said in a statement on Nov. 20.