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Opioid crisis has cost the U.S. $1 trillion

Police and medical workers treat a woman who overdosed on heroin. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The opioid crisis has cost the U.S. $1 trillion since 2001, according to Altarum, a nonprofit health research firm. Those costs have been increasing more rapidly over the past few years, and Altarum projects they’ll grow by another $500 billion just by 2020.

By the numbers:

  • Most of that $1 trillion comes from lost wages, productivity and tax revenue, Altarum said.
  • The health care system directly bore about a quarter of the total financial burden — $215 billion — largely from emergency treatment of overdoses.

The human cost: Roughly 64,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2016, driven by a recent surge in deaths from fentanyl, heroin and prescription opioids — making today’s addiction crisis worse than the HIV epidemic at its peak.

Between the lines: “Lost wages and productivity” can seem like a nebulous cost, but it’s a good way to think about the ripple effects of this crisis beyond the people who die from it. When 116 people per day are dying from opioid-related overdoses, at an average age of just 41, their “lost wages and productivity” are a partial measure of the hole that’s left in their families and their communities.