The economic toll of the opioid epidemic in the United States rose to nearly $1.5 trillion in 2020, an increase of $487 billion over the prior year, according to a new report by the congressional Joint Economic Committee. The cost also represents an increase of about $400 billion, or 37%, from 2017, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last measured the cost of the crisis.
The report suggests that the true cost of the opioid epidemic may be even higher — and that it’s likely to keep rising given the increase in fatal opioid overdoses in 2021, when nearly 81,000 such deaths were recorded.
“While recent policy commitments are important steps, the $1.5 trillion annual cost highlighted in this brief suggests the size and scope of the government’s response must be significantly larger,” the report says. “The federal government should address barriers to health care and expand access to evidence-based treatment by continuing a shift towards a ‘treatment instead of punishment’ approach that prioritizes medical treatment and support services over incarceration. One additional step to support treatment would be for the 12 states that have yet to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to do so, as Medicaid expansion is associated with reduced fatal opioid overdoses through greater access to treatment.”