The opioid epidemic claimed the lives of at least 64,000 Americans and cost $504 billion dollars in 2015 alone, according to the White House.
That staggering figure, which was released yesterday in a report from the Council of Economic Advisers, is more than 6 times higher than an earlier estimate, which pegged the cost at $78.5 billion in 2013. The earlier assessment took into account costs accrued by the epidemic's burden on healthcare, law enforcement and lost productivity. But the White House says the figure didn't consider one of the biggest factors driving up the epidemic's economic impact.
"Previous estimates of the economic cost of the opioid crisis greatly underestimate it by undervaluing the most important component of the loss — fatalities resulting from overdoses," the report said.
The half-trillion dollar figure takes that issue into account as well as the the significance of non-prescription opioids like heroin, which many addicts turn to when they can no longer afford alternatives like percocet.
On top of that, the epidemic has worsened significantly since 2013, when 25,050 Americans died due to opioid overdose according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The White House says the 2016 death toll was at least 64,000 — 2.5 times higher than the 2013 statistic.
And the epidemic shows no signs of slowing as long as addictive medications like percocet and oxycodone remain the only federally approved prescriptions for pain management.
However, one alternative that the feds could consider is medical marijuana. Recent studies have shown again and again that marijuana can help addicts wean themselves off opioids. Moreover, marijuana's painkilling properties could provide an alternative to the pills that cause addiction. And on top of all that, legalizing marijuana would create a nationwide industry that's projected to make an estimated $100 billion annually. So repealing federal pot prohibition could give addicts their lives back, stop people from becoming addicted in the first place and take a huge bite out of the annual costs of the epidemic.
But it can't do any of those things while people like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are handling the situation. Christie, who also chairs President Trump's opioid commission, claims that marijuana is part of the problem, not the solution. He insists that recreational marijuana use leads to opioid addiction and death, even though that notion has been debunked repeatedly by science. But Christie refuses to acknowledge that.
Unfortunately, you can't cure opioid addiction with rhetorical bluster.