Who’s Responsible for Ending the $500 Billion Opioid Crisis?
Health Care

Who’s Responsible for Ending the $500 Billion Opioid Crisis?

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated recently that the opioid epidemic cost the U.S. economy $504 billion in 2015. Even so, most Americans see addiction to prescription pain medication as a major problem but not a national emergency, according to a new analysis of poll data published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“At present, Americans consider taking increased national action to reduce deaths from opioid abuse a second-tier priority for government action. On a list of 15 domestic policy issues that were possible priorities for Congress and the President for 2017, opioids ranked sixth, named by 24% as an extremely important priority,” Harvard’s Robert Blendon and John Benson write.

The public is split over which level of government should lead the fight against opioid addiction, with 36 percent saying the federal government was most responsible, 28 percent saying state governments, and 21 percent saying local officials. “Similarly, asked what level of government should be primarily responsible for paying for programs aimed at reducing the number of people abusing prescription painkillers or opioids, about 41% said the federal government, versus 33% for state and 20% for local,” the report says.

On the question of government spending to combat opioid addiction, the authors add: “An important finding from our review is that at a time when public- and private-sector leaders are seeking a substantial increase in government funding for opioid-addiction treatment programs and legislation requiring insurers to offer coverage for these treatments, polls show a large share of the public uncertain about the long-term effectiveness of treatment.”