CDC: Ohio’s opioid epidemic cost $72 billion in 2017

A man walks by a billboard for a drug recovery center in Youngstown. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Ohio’s opioid epidemic caused an economic loss of more than $72 billion in 2017, the second most per capita of any other state in the U.S., according to CDC research.

The figure, published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, is a sum of direct costs (health care, substance use disorder treatment, criminal justice etc.) and economic costs (lost productivity, reduced quality of life).

Some of the states most ravaged by the opioid epidemic — West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Massachusetts — all lead the nation in per capita economic costs to fatal opioid overdoses and opioid use disorder, the CDC found. The rankings in the study are limited to 38 states that met certain drug specificity requirements for mortality data.

Nationally, the CDC estimated the epidemic cost more than $1 trillion in 2017.

Preliminary data from the Ohio Department of Health shows 2020 overtook 2017 as the worst year on record for all fatal drug overdoses (not just those related to opioids). More than 5,000 Ohioans died from overdoses in 2020.

The U.S. Council of Economic Advisers, which conducts research for the White House, has also attempted to calculate the costs of the opioid epidemic. The economists estimated the national toll at $504 billion in 2015, about six times larger than most approximations at the time.

The CDC drew its more recent calculation by combining state-level estimates of opioid use disorder cases from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and pairing it with estimated cost burden data from the journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The bulk of the economic burden traces back reduced quality of life, and the loss of life itself.

Across the Ohio River, some of the largest drug distributors in the world including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corp. are currently on trial for their alleged role in sparking the epidemic.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the companies stand accused of dumping 127.9 million opiate doses into Cabell County, which is suing the companies alongside the city of Huntington, between 2006 and 2014. Fewer than 92,000 residents live in the county.

During the same time frame, there were 4.4 billion prescription pain pills supplied to Ohio, according to data obtained by the Washington Post, the Huntington Herald Dispatch, and the Gazette-Mail. This comes out to more than 378 painkillers for every man, woman, and child in the state.

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