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Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The ongoing opioid crisis cost $696 billion in 2018 and more than $2.5 trillion between 2015 and 2018, according to a new estimate by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Why it matters: Much of this cost is attributable to lives lost to opioids, but a good amount of it is borne by state and federal governments — and thus taxpayers. Meanwhile, opioid litigation settlement talks are homing in on payouts nowhere near this amount.

For context: $696 billion was 3.4% of GDP last year — an astronomical amount.

  • The estimate is much higher than a recent report by the Society of Actuaries because of the way CEA calculated the value of a life.
  • It also includes health care and substance abuse treatment costs, criminal justice costs and reduced productivity costs.
  • "Under CEA’s calculation, the majority of the costs are 'paid' by those who lost their lives," special advisor Jared Meyer said.

The big picture: The drug manufacturers and distributors being sued by thousands of communities struck a deal last week with the plaintiffs that kept the first federal opioids trial from beginning as scheduled. But a larger deal to settle all of the pending lawsuits has yet to be reached.

  • Some state attorneys general have announced a settlement framework worth $48 billion, but nothing is final.
  • Congress gave $6 billion in new opioid funding in 2018 and 2019, per CEA.

What they're saying: Andrew Kolodny of Brandeis University said that at least some of the plaintiffs have the resources to pay much more to help addressing the epidemic they've been accused of creating.

  • "The distributors and Johnson & Johnson have extremely deep pockets," he added. “Considering the cost of the mess they created and the estimate that comes from the White House Counsel of Economic Advisors, $48 billion is way too little.”

The bottom line: "We’re all paying for this," Kolodny said. "We’re paying an enormous price, both in terms of economic and human costs.”

Go deeper

Virginia lawmakers vote to legalize marijuana in 2024

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Lawmakers in Virginia on Saturday approved compromise legislation that would legalize marijuana in 2024, putting the state a step closer to becoming the first in the South to end prohibition on the drug, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Why it matters: The legislation will make Virginia the 16th state to legalize marijuana, per Politico. It would add to a slate of laws that have seen Virginia move in a more progressive direction during the tenure of Gov. Ralph Northam.

Scammers seize on COVID confusion

Data: FTC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Scamming has skyrocketed in the past year, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID-related scams, more recently around vaccines.

Why it matters: The pandemic has created a prime opportunity for scammers to target people who are already confused about the chaotic rollouts of things like stimulus payments, loans, contact tracing and vaccines. Data shows that older people who aren't digitally literate are the most vulnerable.

14 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.