CEA Reports Underestimated Costs of the Opioid Crisis

On November 20th, 2017 the white house posted a report by the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) in which 2015 estimates of the total cost of the opioid crisis were reportedly drastically underestimated.


Although the crisis has only worsened over the past two years, data such as this typically comes out slowly. However, the report acknowledges that annual estimates are growing, as opioid overdose rates have doubled in the past ten years and have quadrupled in the past sixteen. The report explains that the original estimates did not accurately value the cost of fatalities due to opioid overdoses. The total cost of the crisis is estimated to be as much as six times that which most recent estimates concluded.

President Trump has only recently begun to take steps to address the widespread opioid epidemic in the United States.  On October 26th, 2017 he declared a public health emergency, which I wrote about at that time.


On November 1st, 2017 the president’s Commission on combating drug addiction and the Opioid crisis released their findings, which I summarized as well.


The CEA’s report estimates that the total economic impact of the opioid crisis in 2015 was $504.0 billion. Cost valuations ranged from a low estimate of $239.9 billion up to a high of $622.1 billion.

The preferred total valuation of $504 billion selected by the CEA was determined by adding the following:

  • $72.3 billion for non-fatal consequences, which represents costs associated with healthcare for substance abuse treatment, criminal justice, and reduced productivity of the 2.4 million individual’s suffering from opioid use disorders who survived as of 2015.

  • The remaining $431.7 billion in estimated costs (85% of total) were considered the cost of those lives that were lost (fatality costs).

In the CEA report the original number of opioid related deaths in 2015 were considered underestimated at 33,091 and estimated to be 24 percent greater at closer to 41,033 overdose deaths. Before factoring for the 24 percent increase, 2015 data reported an overall fatality rate of 10.3 deaths per 100,000 population. The 25 to 55 year-old age group was most affected at 16.1 to 22.0 deaths per 100,000 population.

These numbers are staggering and yet do not yet reflect outcomes of 2016 or 2017, which may be even greater. Although the administration has acknowledged the enormous impacts of the opioid epidemic in the United States, there has not yet been true action or funding put in place. Hopefully, all of these reports and declarations will advance the implementation of a solution and 2018 will begin to represent improvements in tackling this devastating national crisis.