The American opioid epidemic, which President Trump declared a public emergency last year, costs the United States more than $500 billion per year, according to data released by the The Council of Economic Advisers.
The agency, which is part of the Executive Office of the President, believes that $504 billion is lost through a combination of factors related to opioid abuse, ranging from overdose deaths to health care bills, lost productivity and spending on law enforcement and criminal justice.
An estimated 50,000 Americans died due to drug overdoses in 2015, the most recent year for which complete data is available. More than 60% of these deaths involved opioids, making the class of medication that most deadly in the country.
Opioid addiction has developed from a minor problem into a major crisis over the past decade, with overdose deaths, emergency room visits and other negative events increasing at a rapid pace.
In 2017, more than 45,000 people in the United States received emergency room treatment for opioid-related health problems. An estimated two million American adults are considered opioid dependent, according to the current addiction criteria.
The rate of opioid-related deaths is more than four times as high as in 1999, less than 20 years ago.
Opioid addiction affects a diverse range of people throughout the United States. However, the addiction crisis has hit certain areas harder than others, with industrial areas the most likely to be affected.
Addiction rates are highest in states such as Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania — states with large amounts of heavy industry and higher rates of workplace injuries than coastal regions.
Many people dealing with opioid addiction are prescribed opioid painkillers due to a workplace injury or surgery. Prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin are widely prescribed, often for injuries that can potentially be treated using less addictive alternative medications.
Data shows that many people become addicted to opioids after being prescribed the drugs at a therapeutic dose following surgery or recurring pain. Others switch from prescription opioids to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl due to their lower cost and widespread availability.
In the case of fentanyl, efforts by addicts to save money can be deadly. The drug, which is a synthetic opiate painkiller designed for use in combination with other drugs as an anesthetic, delivers an effect that’s more than 50 times as powerful as morphine.
Black market opioid dealers often falsely sell fentanyl as heroin or morphine in an effort to cut costs and generate more profit from illegal drug sales. Even a slight overdose of the drug can result in death, making this practice extremely hazardous and harmful.
Fentanyl is also often disguised as prescription medications such as oxycodone. Recently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that three men had been arrested in California for selling the illicit and dangerous painkiller in the form of counterfeit oxycodone tablets.
It’s a widespread problem, and one with no clear end in sight. Despite massive efforts by law enforcement, government and private addiction centres, the opioid crisis remains a massive, increasingly significant problem for millions of people across North America.