The Real Cost Of The Opioid Epidemic: An Estimated $179 Billion In Just One Year

October 24, 20194:25 PM ET

Heard on All Things Considered

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/10/24/773148861/calculating-the-real-costs-of-the-opioid-epidemic

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN – NPR

There’s a reckoning underway in the courts about the damage wrought by the opioid crisis and who should pay for it.

Thousands of cities and counties are suing drugmakers and distributors in federal court. One tentative dollar amount floated earlier this week to settle with four of the companies: $48 billion. It sounds like a lot of money, but it doesn’t come close to accounting for the full cost of the epidemic, according to recent estimates — let alone what it might cost to fix it.

Of course, there’s a profound human toll that dollars and cents can’t capture. Almost 400,000 people have died since 1999 from overdoses related to prescription or illicit opioids. Since 2016, the number of opioid deaths per year rivals or has exceeded the number from traffic accidents. These are lives thrown into chaos, families torn apart — you can’t put a dollar figure on those things.

But the economic impact is important to understand. The most recent estimate of those costs comes from the Society of Actuaries and actuarial consulting firm Milliman in a report published this month.

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