Oct 29, 2019

We're all paying for the opioid epidemic

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 massive opioids lawsuit is unlikely to be resolved soon

Oxycodone. Photo: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A settlement resolving all of the pending lawsuits over the opioid crisis is "unlikely in the near term," according to state attorneys general and attorneys involved in the litigation brought by communities, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: That means that it could be a long time before places still plagued by the opioid epidemic receive substantial new funding to address it.

Go deeperArrowOct 31, 2019

Walgreens' outsized role in the opioid epidemic

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Walgreens handled nearly one in five oxycodone and hydrocodone pills that were shipped to pharmacies between 2006 and 2012, as the opioid epidemic worsened, the Washington Post reports.

Between the lines: Walgreens is one of the companies being sued by thousands of communities across the country in federal court.

Go deeperArrowNov 8, 2019

Today's health problems are tomorrow's health crises

Data: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The health troubles we're seeing now — especially among young people — will continue to strain the system for years and even decades to come.

The big picture: Rising obesity rates now will translate into rising rates of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The costs of the opioid crisis will continue to mount even after the acute crisis ends. And all of this will strain what’s already the most expensive health care system in the world.

Go deeperArrowOct 31, 2019 - Health