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

The apocalypse scenario

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democratic lawyers are preparing to challenge any effort by President Trump to swap electors chosen by voters with electors selected by Republican-controlled legislatures. One state of particular concern: Pennsylvania, where the GOP controls the state house.

Why it matters: Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, together with a widely circulated article in The Atlantic about how bad the worst-case scenarios could get, is drawing new attention to the brutal fights that could jeopardize a final outcome.

Federal judge rules Trump administration can't end census early

Census workers outside Lincoln Center in New York. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled late Thursday that the Trump administration could not end the 2020 census a month early.

Why it matters: The decision states that an early end — on Sept. 30, instead of Oct. 31 — would likely produce inaccuracies and thus impact political representation and government funding around the country.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

Where bringing students back to school is most risky

Data: Coders Against COVID; Note: Rhode Island and Puerto Rico did not meet minimum testing thresholds for analysis. Values may not add to 100% due to rounding; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Schools in Southern and Midwestern states are most at risk of coronavirus transmission, according to an analysis by Coders Against COVID that uses risk indicators developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Thankfully, schools have not yet become coronavirus hotspots, the Washington Post reported this week, and rates of infection are lower than in the surrounding communities. But that doesn't mean schools are in the clear, especially heading into winter.

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