The nationwide opioid crisis is having a devastating effect on individuals, families, and communities, and it is imposing enormous financial costs on federal, state, and local governments. Since 1999, deaths from prescription opioids have more than quadrupled.

Recent figures are sobering: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011, 16,917 people died from prescription opioid overdoses; in 2014, the number rose to 18,893; in 2015, it was 22,598. And the Centers for Disease Control has suggested that the existing statistics may be understated, because they do not fully consider the indirect effects of opioids on individuals with other serious health conditions.

The financial costs of the opioid epidemic are borne primarily by states, cities, and local communities. They arise from (A) medical care for individuals suffering from opioid-related addiction, or opioid-related overdoses or medical conditions; (B) treatment of infants born with opioid-related medical conditions; (C) counseling and rehabilitation services for individuals with opioid addiction; (D) social services, including income assistance, food assistance, and housing assistance, for individuals suffering from opioid addiction and their families; (E) social services, custodial care, and education for children whose parents suffer from opioid-related disability or incapacitation; (F) law enforcement and public safety efforts relating to the prescription opioid epidemic; and (G) lost productivity of their citizens. It is estimated that the costs to all levels of government are $78.5 billion annually at least, and this does not include the financial impact on individuals and families. 

The human toll is enormous. 

The Impact
In the United States on an average day:


More than 650,000 opioid prescriptions dispensed.


3,900 people begin nonmedical use of prescription opioids.


91 people die from an opioid-related overdose.


SOURCES: IMS Health National Prescription Audit, SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health, CDC National Vital Statistics System, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Understanding the Epidemic.


The Case

Distributors and retail pharmacies have a responsibility in the opioid crisis, and it is time they are held accountable. Filling illegitimate or suspicious prescriptions creates a huge oversupply of drugs in communities, fuels the crisis, and causes devastating injuries. The search for profit cannot be allowed to drive this epidemic.

Economic Impact of the Opioid Epidemic


The economic burden of the opioid epidemic is an estimated $78.5 billion every year at least.


Increased health care and substance abuse treatment costs contribute $28.9 billion to this economic burden.


Over 14% of the aggregated costs of the opioid epidemic is funded by public health insurance programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and Champus/VA).


Almost 25% of the aggregate economic burden is funded by state and local government.


SOURCE: Florence, C. S., Zhou, C., Luo, F., & Xu, L. (2016). The Economic Burden of Prescription Opioid Overdose, Abuse, and Dependence in the United States, 2013. Medical Care, 54(10), 901-906.