The standard measuring stick for determining the human cost of the drug abuse crisis tends to be the number of lives claimed by it — more than 70,000 annually in the United States. As we have pointed out, that exceeds the total number of U.S. deaths in the Vietnam War (58,220).

But an estimate released a few days ago, of the epidemic’s cost in dollars, also provides a window into human suffering.

A study by the Society of Actuaries concludes the opioid epidemic cost the United States $681 billion from 2015-18. For 2019 alone, the expense may be as high as $214 billion, the society predicts.

Again for comparison, note that the Department of Defense has estimated the entire cost of the Vietnam War, including U.S. aid to South Vietnam, was about $1.08 trillion in 2019 dollars.

But in a very real way, the monetary cost of drug abuse is a reflection of damage to human beings.

As the Society of Actuaries explained, it based its estimate on several factors. They included health care spending linked to drug abuse, premature mortality (loss of lifetime earnings), law enforcement, assistance to families fractured by substance abuse, and lost productivity in the workplace.

Think about that. How many families have required government assistance — and in what ways — because a breadwinner lost his or her job or died due to drug abuse? How many middle-class families were driven into poverty? How many children had to go to foster homes? How many of them will not be able to go to college because the family fund for that was sucked dry by drug pushers?

Look, too, at the health care-statistics ($205 billion of the total). As the society points out, some of that expense was for treating babies born dependent on opioids because their mothers were hooked. Many such infants experience excruciating withdrawal symptoms.

Last but certainly not least, consider the cost of lost productivity in the workplace because of drug abuse. How many companies — and their employees — are struggling because of that? In West Virginia and Ohio, for example, how has a record for rampant substance abuse affected the ability to grow the economies?

The actuaries’ report may be one of financial costs, but it paints a picture of harm the drug crisis is doing to men, women and children. It really is a war — and to date, it is one we are losing.

(7) comments

Conservative

"The standard measuring stick for determining the human cost of the drug abuse crisis tends to be the number of lives claimed by it — more than 70,000 annually in the United States..." Wow, that's a lot of people killed every year. Perhaps we should ban opiods.

CRT

Treating drug abuse as a public health problem rather than a criminal problem would go a long way in helping stem the tide of abuse. Look at the progress we've made with cigarette smoking. In my youth (the 70s), students could smoke on the grounds of Handley and James Wood during breaks. It seemed that smoking was everywhere. Now, through public health initiatives, cigarette smoking, which has cost this country untold billions in healthcare costs and lost productivity, has been cut dramatically.

Ping

For once, I agree with you CRT. The big wigs behind the inflow should pay the criminal penalties, but they never will. The ones put in jail are the bottom of the chain users and small time dealers. What good has filling our jails with drug addicts done for them or for us? When they are sent to prison, they get to work for pennies while making products for the state, for the military, and even for commercial sale that make a fortune for someone....not them. Who would you rather have on your prison assembly line.....non-violent addicts or violent criminals and psychopaths?

Ping

My point being that addicts should be given treatment and not jail....but someone is making a fortune from their being imprisoned.

LG

That is why this time I am Supporting Sibert for Sheriff of Frederick County. He can not stop it but it will be worked on much better and harder than it currently is being handled.

CRT

What we he do differently?

LG

Check out Sibert for Frederick County Sheriff on Facebook, his plans are pretty impressive.

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