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Opioid Abuse Costs $78.5 Billion A Year And Thousands Of Lives, Study Finds

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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The opioid epidemic sweeping the nation is killing thousands of people, and a new study shows that it is also costing the country $78.5 billion a year.

“The adverse health effects of the misuse of prescription opioids, including abuse, dependence, and overdose are a well-documented public health problem,” the report reads. “Prescription opioids account for approximately 70% of fatal prescription drug overdoses.”

Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led by Curtis Florence of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) felt it was important to quantify the economic burden.

Opioid is the name of a general category of pain medicine that is highly related to heroin. Within the opioid subsection of medications is hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl and several others. When not experienced firsthand, many of the consequences of the heroin and opioid epidemic are seen in pictures that channel the pathos of the widespread problem.

Two passed out parents were photographed by police in Ohio last month, after local law enforcement discovered the idle vehicle on the side of the road with a child in the back seat. Opioids killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, a record, according to the CDC.

Certain communities, like the one in New Jersey which reportedly has an overdose death rate 25 times the amount of the national average, have been ravaged by heroin and opioid addiction.

But the economic impact, which may cause further tragedies and more localized turmoil, has not been comprehensively reported. The study did not just include the angle of the person taking opioids, but also took into account the societal perspective, like the expenses incurred by communities.

The researchers calculated the total estimated costs of overdose, abuse and dependence in the year 2013, and found that 30 percent of the costs stem from health care, equating to $28 billion, which is mostly covered by private insurance companies.

Twenty-five percent of the load (roughly $19.6 million) was placed on public sources, like Medicare, Medicaid, government-funded treatment programs, and criminal justice-related costs.

There were four main categories for criminal justice-related costs; police protection, legal and adjudication, correctional facilities, and property lost due to crimes. (RELATED: Four Young Children Left In Home For Days After Parents Died From Apparent Drug Overdose)

“An amount of $78.5 billion would certainly be eye-popping in any domain outside our $3 trillion health care economy. By way of comparison, the federal government spent $79.9 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2013, our premier food assistance program for low-income Americans,” reads a study conducted by Harold Pollack who is a professor at the University of Chicago. “We spent $68 billion on the Earned Income Tax Credit, our premier cash assistance program for low-income workers.”

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