White House: Opioid Epidemic Carries $504B Price Tag


In this photo illustration, a bottle of the generic prescription pain medication buprenorphine is seen in a pharmacy on Feb. 4, 2014, in Boca Raton, Fla.

The White House estimates opioid abuse is costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The White House on Monday attempted to put a price tag on the damage and community upheaval associated with the nation's widespread opioid crisis, publishing a report pegging the economic losses north of $500 billion in 2015 alone.

The document from President Donald Trump's Council of Economic Advisers suggests the costs associated with widespread prescription opioid abuse in the U.S. are more than six times larger than they were believed to be as recently as 2013, when a privately conducted analysis cited by the White House estimated that costs clocked in at just $78.5 billion.

By factoring in the economic consequences associated with opioid deaths rather than just looking at enforcement and medical bills, the council estimates the epidemic's actual damage hit $504 billion in 2015. That's nearly 3 percent of the country's total gross domestic product that year.

"The opioid drug problem has reached crisis levels in the United States," the report said. "The problem is worsening at an alarming pace, with opioid-involved overdose deaths doubling in the past ten years and quadrupling in the past sixteen."

Citing a host of existing opioid-related research and literature, the White House document estimates 2.4 million Americans have an "opioid-use disorder," which "includes individuals who abuse prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin and individuals who abuse heroin or other illicit opioids."

It also estimates more than 33,000 Americans were reported to have died from an opioid overdose in 2015, making up 63 percent of all drug overdose deaths that year.

Part of the reason the new document's $504 billion price tag is so much larger than the $78.5 billion metric from just two years earlier is that the White House council attempts to more accurately reflect the opportunity losses associated with the opioid-related deaths of such a large number of Americans each year – especially considering most are attributed to working-age individuals between the ages of 25 and 55 years old.


The estimated costs of these deaths alone causes the economy to lose out on nearly $432 billion, according to the study. Ongoing opioid abuse is also believed to raise health care costs by more than $29 billion and criminal justice costs by nearly $21 billion.

Trump last month declared a national public health emergency to address the widespread opioid abuse problem stretching across the country. That declaration, however, has been criticized for not going far enough to address the nation's drug problem. Only $57,000 in additional resources were made available through the Public Health Emergency Fund.

Monday's study stops short of recommending what the government should do to combat the $500 billion crisis. Trump, for his part, has advocated for launching a "just say no" campaign to help solve the problem without erecting extra regulatory hurdles.

"A better understanding of the economic causes contributing to the crisis is crucial for evaluating the success of various interventions to combat it," the report said. "For example, supply-side interventions that raise the economic costs of supplying legal prescriptions of opioids may have unintended consequences depending on the extent of demand side substitution induced towards illicit opioids."