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February 08, 2022

Overdose epidemic costs US $1T per year: research

Credit: The Hill, Brad Dress

The ongoing opioid epidemic is costing the U.S. $1 trillion every year, posing “a threat to our national security and global competitiveness,” according to a bipartisan congressional report released on Tuesday.

Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), the chairs of the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, released a final report examining the cost of the opioid epidemic and the potential strategies to mitigate it as the crisis has worsened during the pandemic.

A record-breaking number of overdose deaths were reported in the 12-month period ending in April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 100,306 overdose deaths reported during that period were increase of 28.5 percent from the 78,056 deaths the prior year.

In a Tuesday press release, lawmakers said the epidemic is having a “devastating human impact” on American society. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates opioids have killed nearly 500,000 Americans from 1999 to 2019, but Trone pointed out there have been more than 1 million drug overdose deaths in the U.S. since 1999.

“Since 1999, we’ve lost more than one million Americans to drug overdoses. That’s one million moms, dads, sons, and daughters lost because our country’s response to the opioid epidemic has failed,” he said in a statement. “It’s time to come together, from all levels of government and both sides of the aisle, to address this epidemic and put an end to it once and for all.”

The Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, established in 2020, also includes Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), along with overdose experts and officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Defense, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Treasury Department, among others.

The commission’s report calls for the government to streamline data collection and increase prevention resources and access to treatment; develop a central body to review U.S. drug control policies; collaborate with other nations producing synthetic opioids; and disrupt the drug supply through “targeted oversight and enforcement.”

Commission members said the government should crack down on Mexican cartels and other gangs distributing opioids into the U.S., as well as China, a primary supplier of synthetic opioids like the lethal drug fentanyl.

“We must destroy the cartels and drug trafficking networks that flood our streets with these poisons to protect our communities,” Cotton said in a statement.

Pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma have been blamed for a large part of the opioid crisis. Purdue, which manufactured the highly addictive opioid OxyContin, declared bankruptcy in 2019 after it faced 3,000 lawsuits from states and local governments for its role in the opioid epidemic.

According to a study published last week from researchers at Stanford University, 1.2 million more people could die from overdoses by 2029 if more drastic measures are not taken to curb the epidemic.