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By Monica E. Oss

Last week, we covered the recent $3.3 billion in Congressional appropriations to address opioid addiction in the United States (see How Far Does $3.3 Billion Go?). The figure $3.3 billion may seem like a big number (and it is), but it is dwarfed by the annual economic costs of opioid addiction on our economy—now estimated at $95.8 billion.

Since 2001, the economic cost of the U.S. opioid epidemic has exceeded a total of $1 trillion, rising from an annual cost of $29.1 billion in 2001 to the $95.8 billion figure—with a projection that costs will reach $199.9 billion by 2020 (see Economic Cost Of U.S. Opioid Epidemic Exceeds $1 Trillion Over 16 Years). Increased health care-specific costs driven by the opioid crisis totaled $215.7 billion between 2001 and 2016, with costs totaling $21.4 billion in 2016.

Researchers attributed most of this cost to direct costs of emergency room (ER) visits and hospital admissions, with the balance related to the cost of increased risk for comorbid disorders (see The Potential Societal Benefit Of Eliminating Opioid Overdoses, Deaths, And Substance Use Disorders Exceeds $95 Billion Per Year). Between 2011 and 2015, the rate of opioid-related hospitalizations has increased overall by 11%, from 208 to 231 per 100,000 people for both insured and non-insured. Medicaid expansion states saw a 12% increase, from 241 to 270 per 100,000 people. Non-expansion states saw a 10% increase, from 169 to 185 per 100,000 people (see Rate Of Uninsured Opioid-Related Hospitalizations Fell From 13.4% To 2.9% Following Medicaid Expansion). (The silver lining here is that the rate of uninsured opioid-related hospitalizations fell from 13.4% to 2.9%, thanks in large part to Medicaid expansion.)

Increased Health Care Costs Due To  Opioid Use, Misuse, & Overdoses (In Billions)*





Overdose Costs




Indirect Costs








*Some columns do not sum to totals due to rounding
Source: Altarum

And, in just the past year, ER visits for opioid overdose increased 29.7%, with overdose deaths increased an average of 27.7% (see Emergency Department Visits For Opioid Overdose Increased Nearly 30% Nationwide Between 2016 & 2017). After looking at 45 million ER visits in 16 states (for consumers aged 11 and older), researchers found that all U.S. regions experience increases: the Midwest saw a 69.7% increase, followed by the West (40.3%), Northeast (21.3%), Southwest (20.2%), and Southeast (14.0%).

And, we can expect these health care cost figures to continue to grow. The prevalence and incidence numbers documenting the opioid crisis continue to climb. On roughly the last three and a half decades opioid-related deaths have climbed 1000% and now account for 64,070 accidental deaths in the United States (see The Changing Face Of Opioid Addiction In 2017). In fact, life expectancy in the country has been stunted by 0.28 years, falling for two straight years, thanks in part to drug-poisoning deaths (see Life Expectancy As Our Key Performance Indicator).

In the face of these statistics, opioid addiction will continue have a large (and unwelcome) impact on the health and human service system. And like many large problems, there are opportunities for new and innovative solutions. For some examples of emerging innovative programming, check out our recent coverage—Residential Addiction Treatment-The Opportunity In Changing Medicaid Policy, Innovative Enough To Keep Pace With The Competition?, and Untangling The Access Issues For Addiction Treatment.

For more on the opportunities in the addiction treatment field, join me at The 2018 OPEN MINDS Strategy & Innovation Institute in New Orleans on June 5 for the session, “Innovation In Addiction Treatment: The New Community-Based, Tech-Enabled Models,” featuring Steve Ramsland, Ed.D., Senior Associate, OPEN MINDS; Brent Cummins, Director of Substance Use Services, Chestnut Health Systems; and Janelle Wesloh, LADC, MBA, Vice President of Clinical Excellence, Innovation and Recovery Management, Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

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