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Drug overdoses are costing the U.S. economy $1 trillion a year, government report estimates

November 30, 2021: OnPoint NYC has opened two supervised drug injection sites in the Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods in an effort to address the increase in overdose deaths. (Photo by Yuki IWAMURA / AFP) (Photo by YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images)

Yuki Iwamura | AFP | Getty Images

Fatal opioid overdoses are thought to be costing the U.S. economy $1 trillion each year, government officials have said.

In a report published Tuesday by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, it was revealed that synthetic opioids — primarily fentanyl — were responsible for almost two in three reported drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in the year to June 2021.

More than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses during that period, an increase of 30% from a year earlier, it said. And overdoses have been responsible for more than 1 million deaths in the U.S. since 1999, according to the report — that’s more than double the number caused by firearms or car accidents.

The U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking includes representatives from several federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Four members were appointed from the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“In 2018, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the cost of overdose fatalities was $696 billion, despite being roughly two-thirds of annual overdose deaths today,” the commission said in its report.

“It is therefore reasonable to estimate that drug overdoses are now costing the United States approximately $1 trillion annually.”

According to the report, this “staggering amount” predominantly arose from the lost productivity caused by early deaths, as well as health care and criminal justice costs.

President Joe Biden declared the illicit drug trade a national emergency in a December Executive Order.

In 2017, former President Donald Trump declared America’s opioid epidemic a public health emergency, calling it a source of “national shame.”

The report said on Tuesday that the trafficking of synthetic drugs into the U.S. was not just a public health emergency, but “a national emergency that threatens both the national security and economic wellbeing of the country.”

“In terms of loss of life and damage to the economy, illicit synthetic opioids have the effect of a slow-motion weapon of mass destruction in pill form,” the report’s authors said.

The Commission proposed several ways the government could take a “nationwide and coordinated approach” to the opioid crisis, including the development of a central body to implement all U.S. drug control policies. The Commission also recommended increasing access to treatment for addiction, and collaborating with other countries involved in the production and distribution of synthetic opioids.

The Council on Foreign Relations has called the epidemic one of the United States’ worst-ever drug crises. According to the CFR, more than 1,300 people per week die from opioid-related overdoses, while millions more Americans suffer from opioid addiction.

Pandemic surge

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, rising rates of fatal opioid overdoses were responsible for reducing life expectancies in the United States. Life expectancies for Americans declined again in 2020, which was largely attributed to the pandemic, but opioid-related deaths also played a part.

According to Tuesday’s report, substance abuse and opioid-related fatalities surged as the pandemic set in.

“Shockingly, the number of overdose deaths in the United States has risen exponentially since 1979 and does not appear to be dropping any time soon,” it said.

“Since 1999, we’ve lost more than one million Americans to drug overdoses. That’s one million moms, dads, sons, and daughters lost because our country’s response to the opioid epidemic has failed,” said Rep. David Trone, co-chair of the Commission, in a press release on Tuesday.

Co-chair Sen. Tom Cotton added that 274 Americans die every day from drug overdoses — that’s one person every five minutes, “and every day it gets worse.”

Congressman Fred Upton, also a member of the Commission, called for authorities to crack down on Mexican drug cartels, and said the U.S. must “force China’s hand to crackdown on their pharmaceutical industry supplying cartels with the base compounds used to manufacture synthetic opioids.”

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