The Council of Economic Advisors says that the cost of the nation’s opioid epidemic in 2015 was $504 billion, or 2.8% of that year’s Gross Domestic Product. “This estimate dwarfs estimates from previous studies,” the Council states in its February 2018 CEA Annual Report. The Council is an agency within the Executive Branch that advises the president on economic policy.
The Council states that the higher cost estimate derives from several factors, but most important is that “previous studies undervalued the cost of the lives lost to drug overdoses.” The Council points out that the 2016 death toll of 42,249 surpassed the peak number of annual deaths from HIV/AIDS, and that the 350,000 people who have died from opioid-involved deaths since 1999 is 87% of the number of Americans killed in World War II.
Previous estimates have largely accounted for only direct medical costs and secondary costs such as foregone wages and legal costs. Of the $504 billion total costs, only $72 billion are classified as these “nonfatal costs,” while the remaining $432 billion are the fatal costs.