Well-Being//

The Cost of Human Lives Lost to Opioids May Top $100 Billion a Year

According to a health economist.

The effects of America’s opioid crisis are coming into clearer focus as the problem rages on. In a recent piece in The New Yorker, writer Sheelah Kolhatkar lays out the alarming economic cost of the epidemic—not just the dollars it’s currently costing the nation, but the value of the human lives we’re losing.

Kolkatkar spoke with Anupam Jena, a health economist and doctor at Harvard Medical School, to calculate the human cost of the crisis. Kolkatkar writes, “Taking a conservative estimate of twenty to thirty thousand opioid-related deaths a year and multiplying those numbers by five million dollars—a figure commonly used by insurance companies to value a human life—Jena estimated that loss of life alone costs the economy an additional sum of between a hundred and a hundred and fifty billion dollars a year.”

As my colleague Drake Baer has written, and Kolkatkar discusses in her piece as well, the opioid crisis is one reason why fewer men of prime working age are actually working right now, which also hurts the economy. Kolkatkaral also presses the issue of governmental inaction to curb the epidemic.

“If Trump were running the U.S. government like a business, as he often claims to be doing, then he would have made tackling an inefficiency of such scale a priority,” she writes. “‘The number of people who lose their lives from prescription opioids is larger than the number who’ve lost lives to motor-vehicle accidents,’ Jena told me. ‘Think of all the things that we do to make sure people don’t die from motor-vehicle accidents. We have air bags, speed limits, cops giving out tickets for speed violations. There are a lot of things we do to reduce deaths from motor vehicles. The deaths coming from prescription opioids is exceeding that now.’”

Read the full piece here

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