Opioid epidemic The opioidcrisis took a financial toll on the followingsectors: health care, premature mortality, criminaljustice activities, child and family assistance and educationprograms and lost productivity. (Image: Shutterstock)

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The cost in human terms is incalculable, but that doesn't meanthat the monetary expense involved in the opioid epidemic was small.

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In fact, according to a Society of Actuaries' (SOA) analysis of non-medical opioid use from2015 to 2018, the opioid epidemic cost the U.S. economy atleast $631 billion—and is likely to continue to do so in thefuture.

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Related: AGs call on Congress to remove barriers totreatment for opioid use disorder

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The report, written by Milliman, also projected the epidemic'sfuture costs for 2019; the analysis based its numbers on threescenarios that project how the crisis will continue to develop. Itsconclusion estimates that at the low end the cost will be $172billion, the midpoint $188 billion and the high end $214billion.

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The study is the first in the SOA's Mortality and LongevityStrategic Research Program, which analyzes mortality trends as wellas examining the factors affecting models and mortalitypredictions. The study found that the crisis played out across thefollowing sectors of the U.S. economy during the study period:health care (accounting for some $205 billion); premature mortality($253 billion); criminal justice activities ($39 billion); childand family assistance and education programs ($39 billion); andlost productivity ($96 billion).

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The projected future cost estimates are based on assumptionsincluding prevalence of opioid use disorder and the number ofopioid overdose deaths in 2019. Data sources include administrativeclaims data, federal surveys and databases, as well as priorpeer-reviewed literature to determine the total economicburden.

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The analysis does not include, says the report, economic impactsthat lack adequate data, such as reductions in household (nonpaid)productivity, reductions in on-the-job productivity (presenteeism)or reductions in quality of life for those impacted directly orindirectly by opioid use disorder.

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"As stakeholders seek to understand and address the opioidepidemic, this analysis provides insight into the tremendous impactacross all areas of our economy," says Dale Hall, FSA, CERA, MAAA,CFA and managing director of research with the Society ofActuaries. "Actuaries have long played a vital role in measuringpopulation-level risks, and will continue to work with thehealthcare industry to evaluate the impact of the opioid epidemicon pricing, valuation and other crucial calculations movingforward."

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.