November 1, 2019

The Economic Impact of Non-Medical Opioid Use

The Society of Actuaries (SOA), the world’s largest actuarial professional organization dedicated to research and education to lead the measurement and management of risk, recently published a report on the economic impact of non-medical opioid use in the United States.

SOA estimates that the total economic burden of the opioid crisis from 2015-2018 was at least $631 billion, including costs associated with additional healthcare services, premature mortality, criminal justice activity, child and family assistance programs, education programs, and lost productivity.

At nearly a third of that economic burden, a $205 billion loss is attributed to excess healthcare spending for individuals experiencing opioid use disorder (OUD) and complications resulting from OUD, while lost productivity costs total $96 billion when accounting for absenteeism, reduced labor force participation, incarceration for opioid-related crimes, and employer costs for disability and workers’ comp benefits to employees with OUD.

SOA conducted this report by combining methodologies and data from several other reports, including those from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Analysis Group, Altarum published estimates, the U.S. Census Bureau, and many more.

At over 90 pages, this report contains a wide range of information. Key to workers’ comp, highlights include:

  • Non-medical use of opioid cost employers $362 million in 2015, growing to $500 million in 2018
  • Short-term disability costs due to opioid use increased from $312 million in 2015 to $417 million in 2018
  • Additional disability and workers’ comp costs for employees with OUD totaled over $3.4 billion from 2015-2018

The publication of this report comes at an interesting time, for various opioid manufacturers are settling lawsuits waged against them, claiming that these manufacturers are responsible for the harm of the opioid epidemic and seeking financial restitution.

Roughly a month after major drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $522 million an additional four large drug companies agreed to a $260 million settlement to avoid going to trial in Ohio for similar charges.

Many states and cities in the last few years have brought lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, claiming they are responsible for the harm of the opioid epidemic, and earlier this year, Purdue Pharma paid Oklahoma state a $270 million settlement, while Teva Pharmaceuticals paid $85 million.

But when compared to the billion dollars of economic burden estimated by the SOA, it seems that these various settlements could merely be a drop in the bucket when it comes to healing the harms caused by the opioid epidemic. If this is true, the search for more resources to combat the epidemic may continue for quite some time.

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