U.S. workforce participation, 2002-2018. Despite two economic expansions since 2001, the rate of participation in the workforce has dropped for most age groups. Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Graphic: CBS News / MoneyWatch

By Irina Ivanova
24 October 2018

(CBS News) – President Donald Trump is set Wednesday to sign another bill that aims to stem America's opioid crisis. It comes as overdose deaths from the drugs have continued to surge. Roughly 70,000 people died from overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 10 percent jump from 2016 – that's more than the total number of U.S. military deaths in all 15 years of the Vietnam war.

In some communities, concerns about drugs rate higher than anything else. One in four Americans living in rural areas say drug addiction or abuse in their community is a top issue, recent polling from NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows. "This has never been reported before," the poll's co-director said.

While the human tragedy of the opioid crisis is incalculable, the economic impact on the U.S. and on families can be estimated. In 2017, opioid addiction cost $115 billion, according to an analysis issued earlier this year by Altarum, a health care research nonprofit.

Those losses represent only the direct costs of the epidemic, said Corey Rhyan, a senior analyst at Altarum. That means treating overdoses in the emergency room, long-term treatment for drug addiction, caring for children whose parents' substance abuse has made them unable to work, counting the value of wages lost -- or, in many cases, death.

Since 2001, the opioid crisis' direct costs have topped $1 trillion, Altarum calculated.

"I would argue that's a conservative estimate," Rhyan said. "Obviously, any dollar value needs to be viewed alongside the enormous and unthinkable human costs of the epidemic."

Putting a figure on the economic costs highlights the urgency of finding a solution, Rhyan added. "If we're talking $100 billion a year lost to these issues, think about how much money we should be investing to solve this problem." [more]

Opioid crisis: Incalculable pain and a $1 trillion hit to the U.S.

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