The Opioid Epidemic Cost U. S. Economy Trillions of Dollars

That is a lot of damage, not even mentioning the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their lives due to opioid overdoses. Most Americans today know for a fact just how much heroin, fentanyl and prescription pain pills have lead us into this drug epidemic, and just how much human life it has cost. Over 700,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses in the past 20 years. That is insane! There is always a chance of death when using and especially mixing any opioid based drugs. Just last year alone, there were almost 70,000 drug overdose deaths, according to recent CDC data.

American lives are being lost every four minutes, but less well-spread news is how devastating the economic toll from the opioid epidemic has become. A report released from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) actually gave estimates on the monetary damages this drug epidemic has had on our economy over the past four years. It is scary to fathom! Even though we of course are recognizing that this is nothing compared to the numerous people who have lost their lives due to the disease of addiction, seeing a dollar amount next to this epidemic is quite shocking. The report states that in a four year period, the opioid drug epidemic has cost the U. S. economy $2.5 trillion dollars. Yes, that is trillion. It is shocking, sad, and honestly just makes us sick to our stomach. So much pain, so many tears, and now it is affecting us as a country at whole financially.

Let us go further and break it down into a context because of the number being so insanely large. So, $2.5 trillion- gone, bye-bye, and of that there was over $700 billion lost in just 2018 alone. This number alone is more than what was spent on military, Medicaid or Medicare that year. Not so fun fact- that $2.5 trillion is over 10% of what the entire U. S. economy period! It was also more than what the economy grew between 2015-2018, pretty sad statistics right there.

Highest Estimate Yet

This isn’t the first time there has been an attempt to estimate the cost of the opioid epidemic. An example from back in 2017 would be research done from a healthcare company Altarum ( , their published report estimated more than $95 billion was due to the opioid crisis. There are some other studies that have been done to measure damages due to the drug epidemic, however the government (the CEA) takes the value of a statistical life (VSL) where as most other studies aren’t doing that.
Additional notes from the CEA said, “prefers this comprehensive measure because the opioid crisis not only increases costs and lowers productivity throughout the economy, it also prematurely ends lives, which have value beyond their effect on economic output.” There are many other aspects besides just money values that have to do with the economy as a whole. Most of these other studies examine a narrow set of costs, such as health care expenditures, the CEA is trying to account for the human costs associated with the epidemic.

Spending is Justified When Dealing with The Opioid Crisis

Reading the CEA’s report, there are two things that are very apparent. One, being that the opioid epidemic cost the economy 2.5 trillion dollars, an amount that will continue to rise without investing in change. Number two, we need to continue to spending to fight this epidemic, because at the end of the day- every penny spent on fighting is worth the cost. There is no amount of money you can put on your life or a loved one’s life. Looking at the toll that comes from humans losing their lives should be reason enough to know we need to continue to spend on fighting the drug epidemic. In the long run, the investments done to crack down on the crisis will be worth it.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.