Opioid Crisis Costs Washington State Billions

The latest numbers show the opioid epidemic is costing residents of Washington state $9.9 billion annually and the cost is increasing. About $7 billion of that money was correlated to the financial impact of overdose fatalities on Washington’s health care system.

Beyond the fiscal strain, the cost to families and employers is high.

A recent study indicated that the high cost of the opioid crisis in Washington state, largely due to the stark increase in opioid overdose deaths in the state. Where is the money going? What can be done to mitigate these costs? More importantly, where can residents of Washington State turn for help?

Congress Releases Study on the Cost of the Opioid Epidemic

A recent study from a U.S. Senate committee earlier this year stated that the opioid epidemic cost Washington State more than $34 billion from 2012 to 2016. The study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Council of Economic Advisors, which is tasked with providing the president with advice related to the economy and spending. Together, these entities concluded, “Previous analyses of the economic cost of opioids significantly underestimate the total costs of the epidemic.” The true costs of the opioid epidemic in Washington state and around the country were as much as six times higher than previously estimated.

The study, entitled, “The Economic Cost of the Opioid Epidemic in Washington State,” extrapolated cost data from 2016 to determine the per-state costs of the epidemic. In Washington state, the economic cost that year alone was more than $9.19 billion.

The report broke down the cost of opioid addiction in Washington state:

  • Opioid-caused fatalities: More than $7.177 million
  • Healthcare costs: More than $922 million
  • Addiction treatment: More than $99 million
  • Courts and criminal system: More than $270 million
  • Lost productivity: More than $723 million

Opioid-correlated overdose deaths have doubled in Washington state in the past 10 years and quadrupled over the past 16 years, according to the report.

The Opioid Epidemic – How Did Washington State Get Here

Two decades ago, many pharmaceutical firms told medical professionals that prescription opioids were not addictive. In the early 70s, these drugs burst onto the market as non-addictive short-term pain relievers.

By 1991, deaths from opioid overdoses began to sharply increase. But pharmaceutical companies promoted the use of opioids for pain relief, despite a lack of long-term data on the addictive qualities of these drugs. In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration approved OxyContin, a sustained-release opiate for long-term pain relief. Despite claims to the contrary, it was highly addictive. Eventually, in 2007, the manufacturer would pay more than $634 million in fines for misrepresenting the addictive properties of the drug.

However, stronger pain relievers were coming. One of them was fentanyl, a synthetic opioid created to ease the pain of late-stage cancer patients. If taken in incorrect amounts, the drug can be lethal. By 2013, fentanyl deaths began to skyrocket and overdoses from other opioids were flooding hospital emergency rooms.

Throughout this time period, physicians were overprescribing opioids. It was not until the last few years that the CDC issued new guidelines for opioid prescribing and the true cost of the addictive quality of these drugs became known. By 2017, the president labeled the opioid crisis a national emergency.

The Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Mitigating the Costs – New Federal Law Offers Relief

The Seattle Times reported that new legislation is underway in the Senate that would help mitigate some of the costs of the opioid crisis in Washington state. The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 seeks to send grants to the states for opioid prevention and treatment. In the meantime, the president signed several bills designed to release more money and take other steps to stop the crisis.

The legislation, called the Support for Patients and Communities Act, authorizes the:

  • Reauthorization of $500 million toward the opioid crisis
  • Creation of a grant program for communities
  • Expansion of new educational initiatives for health care providers to limit opioid prescribing
  • Lifting of restrictions on medication-assisted therapies, which allows more clinicians to prescribe the drugs
  • Expansion of the use of naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdose
  • Expansion of research into non-opioid pain relievers

Vox reviewed the legislation and suggested that while the legislation received broad bipartisan support, it fails to authorize enough funds to really combat the issue of the opioid epidemic. The article quoted an addiction medicine doctor who criticized the new legislation for not going far enough. The doctor stated:

“We hear a lot of talk about how addiction is a medical condition that needs to be addressed similarly to other chronic illnesses, yet the existing treatment system is largely separate from the medical mainstream and offers interventions that bear little resemblance to how we care for people with other health conditions.”

In 2017, more than 72,000 people died in the United States from drug overdoses. Only time will tell if this new effort by Congress to slow these rising figures will really make a dent in the opioid crisis.

Washington State Rehab Can Help

Washington state drug rehab professionals are standing on the front lines of the opioid crisis every day. These providers offer residential inpatient and outpatient treatment designed to help people better manage their opioid addiction. These professionals offer an individualized approach to recovery in compassionate and clinically effective treatment centers all over the state.

At The Recovery Village Ridgefield, medical professionals provide a safe environment for patients with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health illnesses. Facility representatives understand the root causes of these medical disorders and offer state-of-the-art treatment to help clients regain their health and restart their lives.

Recovery from opioid addiction is a long-term process that can be undertaken one step at a time. The Recovery Village Ridgefield can help you on the way toward sobriety and down the path toward healing and recovery. To learn more about admissions, call now.