The real price of drug abuse
The standard measuring stick for determining the human cost of the drug abuse crisis tends to be the number of lives claimed by it — more than 70,000 annually in the United States. As we have pointed out, that exceeds the total number of U.S. deaths in the Vietnam War (58,220).
But an estimate released a few days ago, of the epidemic’s cost in dollars, also provides a window into human suffering.
A study by the Society of Actuaries concludes the opioid epidemic cost the United States $681 billion from 2015-18. For 2019 alone, the expense may be as high as $214 billion, the society predicts.
Again for comparison, note that the Department of Defense has estimated the entire cost of the Vietnam War, including U.S. aid to South Vietnam, was about $1.08 trillion in 2019 dollars.
But in a very real way, the monetary cost of drug abuse is a reflection of damage to human beings.
As the Society of Actuaries explained, it based its estimate on several factors. They included health care spending linked to drug abuse, premature mortality (loss of lifetime earnings), law enforcement, assistance to families fractured by substance abuse, and lost productivity in the workplace.
Think about that. How many families have required government assistance — and in what ways — because a breadwinner lost his or her job or died due to drug abuse? How many middle-class families were driven into poverty? How many children had to go to foster homes? How many of them will not be able to go to college because the family fund for that was sucked dry by drug pushers?
Look, too, at the health care statistics ($205 billion of the total). As the society points out, some of that expense was for treating babies born dependent on opioids because their mothers were hooked. Many such infants experience excruciating withdrawal symptoms.
Last but certainly not least, consider the cost of lost productivity in the workplace because of drug abuse. How many companies — and their employees — are struggling because of that? Here in New York, how has our record for rampant substance abuse affected our ability to grow our economies?
The actuaries’ report may be one of financial costs, but it paints a picture of harm the drug crisis is doing to men, women and children. It really is a war –and to date, it is one we are losing.