Te White House economists said prior research didn’t capture the full impact because it at times only measured health-care expenditures or earnings lost from those who die. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The opioid epidemic sweeping the U.S. is far costlier than once thought, with the economic impact of the crisis exceeding half a trillion dollars, according to a new report by White House economists.

The epidemic cost the American economy $504 billion in 2015, which was the equivalent of 2.8 percent of gross domestic product that year, according to the report by the Council of Economic Advisers, or CEA. The White House’s figures are more than six times larger than a previous study because it incorporates the value of lives lost to the epidemic.

The findings come less than a month after the Trump administration declared widespread opioid abuse a public health emergency while stopping short of freeing up federal disaster funds to tackle the problem.

A study released last year estimated the cost of the opioid crisis in 2013 at $79.9 billion, adjusted to 2015 dollars. The White House economists said prior research (see table) didn’t capture the full impact because it at times only measured health-care expenditures or earnings lost from those who die — which overlooks “other valuable activities in life besides work.”

Study  Year  Opioids Cost 

Birnbaum et al. 

2001 

Prescription 

$11.5b 

Birnbaum et al.  

2007 

Prescription 

$61.5b

Florence et al.  

2013 

Prescription 

$79.9b

CEA  

2015 

Prescription & Illicit 

$504b

 

The CEA also said it made adjustments to more accurately measure the number of opioid-related deaths, which often go underreported, and focused on illicit opioids as well as prescription drugs.

“This is the first but not the last publication CEA plans to issue on the opioid crisis,” according to the report. “A better understanding of the economic causes contributing to the crisis is crucial for evaluating the success of various interventions to combat it.”

 

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