The Cost of the Opioid Epidemic

We’ve seen the effect of the current opioid epidemic on our country in recent years. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), 2 million Americans were addicted to opioid pain medications and 590,000 more were addicted to heroin back in 2015. That same year, 63% of overdose deaths were caused by addiction to prescription opioids (20,101 deaths) and heroin (12,990 deaths).

Prevalence of Opioid Crisis

It’s easy to see, then, why the question of what this epidemic is costing the country flies under the radar. With an issue this impactful in basically every U.S. state, public health concerns often come before economic impact. This is why the Trump Administration’s Council of Economic Advisors recent report on the true cost of the opioid epidemic was met with some surprise— especially because it’s considerably higher than the council had previously estimated.

With a complete view of the treatment data as of 2015, the White House estimated that the epidemic was costing the country $504 billion.

But what factors determine the total cost of opioid addiction treatment? How can we be certain that the budget for addiction treatment is money well spent?

The Extent of the Opioid Epidemic

In addition to the numbers cited above, there’s no shortage of data to support the fact that the opioid epidemic has only continued to worsen. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioid overdoses are the leading cause of drug-related deaths throughout the United States. To make matters worse, this statistic seems to be trending upward— as is the fatality rate of overdose from opioids used with other drugs.

A state-by-state tracker of the opioid crisis across the U.S. shows what anecdotal evidence has already suggested; no states in the union are spared from the dire consequences of this substance abuse epidemic.

When the President’s Council of Economic Advisors first calculated the nationwide cost of the opioid epidemic, their estimate was just north of $78 billion. The more recent $504 billion estimate reflects new knowledge and a growing understanding that the crisis is getting stronger than projections could have ever predicted.

The Source of the Costs

The costs that make up this $504 billion estimate stem from a few different expenses, although it’s unknown just how much each specific cost accounts for.

One major expense that makes up a large portion of this estimate can be broken down into two groups: the costs of emergency room accommodations, and the costs of utilizing first responder services to treat addicts for opioid-related health emergencies, like overdose. Kaiser Health News estimates that treating a single opioid overdose victim costs an average of $92,400.

Another major expense is the administration of various life-saving drugs. Intervention medications, like Naloxone, are given to opioid addicts when they are treated for overdose or addiction— and in recent years, these kinds of medications have become eight times more expensive than their original listed prices.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the hospitals and public rehab facilities that cater to opioid addicts in recovery are able to stay open at a significant cost to the nation’s taxpayers. In fact, according to NIDA, a month in a methadone clinic costs roughly $4,700 per patient.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

An average of 114 opioid addicts die each day from drug overdose. This terrifying statistic begs the question: is it worth it to invest hundreds of billions into what appears to be a failing treatment system?

The answer is complicated.  According to NIDA, the issue of addiction treatment success rates has been massively misrepresented. After all, drug addiction is a very difficult condition to treat, and yet addicts in recovery are subject to relapse rates comparable to other chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. Overall, there are two major problems with the way we judge the success of opioid addiction treatment as compared to other diseases:

We View Opioid Addiction Differently

The stigma surrounding addiction skews our perception of struggling addicts. This prompts the public at large to think of addicts as “lesser humans” or morally weak. To the contrary, addiction is a lot like many other chronic, genetically-linked diseases. In this sense, faulting someone for developing an addiction is no different than blaming a patient for developing cancer— some people are just more prone to it because of factors outside of their control like genetic factors, family medical history, etc. So, when you compare things like treatment cost, relapse rates and other key metrics, there is really no enormous difference in the cost per capita of treating addiction than there is treating other serious conditions.

There is No Standard of Treatment

While most diseases are subject to basic standards of care that are used across all treatment programs, addiction does not have that same level of universality. In fact, “rehab” isn’t constrained to any sort of standard definition. So, what does this mean?

This essentially means that the success rates of opioid addiction treatment are not based on any concrete, standardized data. Treatments can vary greatly depending on the criteria used by a specific treatment facility. These criteria typically include:

  • Program completion
  • Relapse rate
  • Exit interviews
  • Internal studies

Both of these issues paint a picture that the treatment community for opioid addiction is somehow less effective than those of other chronic diseases. Despite this, NIDA’s research-based Principles of Effective Addiction Treatment lays out standards of addiction treatment that can be effective in treating addicts of all substances, not just opioids.

One of the primary keys to addiction treatment success is the understanding that no two addicts are the same. Every addict will respond differently to a single form of treatment, and the best rehab facilities are the ones that utilize various methods to reach a wider scope of patients.

So, Is Opioid Addiction Treatment Worth It?

In short, the answer is yes. It is in the country’s best interest to continue to fund opioid addiction treatment. Addiction may have no cure and a high rate of relapse, but it is actually less expensive to treat opioid addiction than it is not to.

As previously mentioned, treating opioid addiction averages $4,700 per patient. Alternatively, the cost of incarceration for drug-related crimes is $24,000 per felon— nearly six times more than treatment. In addition, NIDA has determined that each dollar spent on treatment yields a decrease of approximately $4-7 in drug crime. The U.S. would be saving heaps and loads by favoring addiction treatment over any alternative methods of spending.

Opioid Addiction Treatment Options at The Treatment Center

If you or a loved one struggles from addiction to a prescription opioid or a drug like heroin, it’s important that you seek help as soon as possible. The Treatment Center offers a range of services guaranteed to help you on your journey toward recovery. To learn more about the treatment strategy that will work best for you, please call us at (855) 889-5065.