The devastating opioid epidemic in the US has cost the government almost $1.5 trillion in 2020 alone after being exacerbated by the covid pandemic and the rise of fentanyl, new figures show.
Officials said the opioid crisis, which has been building for decades, peaked during the pandemic when hospital closures left people particularly vulnerable to addiction.
Those who had drug habits and didn’t know where to turn for help and people who were used to being treated in person were suddenly unable to meet with their health care providers face-to-face.
The damage caused by the pandemic has been compounded by a flood of fentanyl, a lethal synthetic opioid up to 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. Cheap drugs are pouring into the US at an astonishing rate and contaminating the drugs being sold on the streets.
The economic cost of opioids for 2020 marks a 37 percent increase from 2017, the last year federal officials measured the cost.
The latest figures were revealed in a report issued by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress this week.
The death toll that year, which resulted in an average of 44 deaths per day, was the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of Americans crashing every day with no survivors, said Maryland Democrat David Trone, who sits on the committee. who issued the report.
The committee believes that the upheaval throughout society during the pandemic may have led people to switch traffickers who were more likely to sell them fentanyl due to changes in drug smuggling patterns.
Opioid deaths soared during the first year of the pandemic in part due to widespread shutdowns and lockdowns.
The committee reached its conclusion after estimating the cost of health care, criminal justice, and lost productivity.
“Pandemic-related stress and additional barriers to care are also likely to lead to higher relapse rates among those struggling with opioid use,” the report said.
He continued: “Factors such as self-isolation and the economic impact of the pandemic were linked to higher levels of stress, anxiety and other mental health problems, which worsened conditions for people with substance use disorder.”
The committee used the same methodology used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its economic impact estimate in 2017. The authors of the JEC report calculated the costs of health care, criminal justice, and lost productivity in the labor force, as well as the costs for reduced quality of life.
The isolation derived from the mandatory quarantine in 2020 caused a wave of fatal drug overdoses that exceeded 91,000 that year alone. Opioids were involved in nearly three-quarters of all overdose deaths that year. The 2021 total far exceeded the previous year with some 107,000 deaths, 75% of which opioids involved.
The CDC includes deaths caused by fentanyl in its overall count of opioid deaths. A national total for fentanyl overdoses is not available, but several states have taken it upon themselves to quantify these deaths.
In Wisconsinfor example, synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, were identified in 91% of opioid overdose deaths and 73% of all drug overdose deaths in the past year.
Opioids, particularly the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogues, have fueled the fatal overdose crisis. An infinitesimal amount of fentanyl sprayed into the drug supply can be fatal.
US authorities have been on high alert for the past several years due to a torrent of illegal fentanyl entering the country. Customs and Border Protection seized more than 11,200 pounds of fentanyl in 2021, a 134% increase from the previous year.
In the fourth quarter of 2021 alone, authorities seized more than 2 million pills containing fentanyl, compared to 42,000 pills in the first quarter of 2018, an increase of 4,850%.
Most of the fentanyl entering the US was synthesized in clandestine laboratories in China, India and Mexico. Mexican drug cartels are moving significant amounts of the drug in pill and powder form across the US border.
The dark web has also made it easier to access medicine in powder or pill form by sending it directly to consumers through the mail.
Fentanyl can be sold on its own, but it is often used to contaminate other drugs. Due to its low cost and high potency, dealers can traffic more without sacrificing the effects of the drug that buyers expect. Many people have died from fentanyl poisoning without even knowing they had ingested fentanyl.
President Joe Biden has declared his goal to remedy the epidemic, which had its genesis in the 1990s with the introduction of the first prescription opioids.
The administration Announced last week that it would award $1.5 billion to states, tribal lands and territories to fund access to addiction prevention, treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The White House also announced that additional financial penalties would be imposed on entities involved in drug trafficking.
Overdose data for 2022 is still being collected, but rising border seizures and a steady rise in deaths suggest the crisis will get worse before it gets better.