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Here's What It Would Cost to Fix the Opioid Crisis, According to 5 Experts

Here's What It Would Cost to Fix the Opioid Crisis, According to 5 Experts
From TIME - November 27, 2017

Some 50,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose in 2016, according to government estimates. Thats 137 people a day, or roughly one death every 12 minutes from prescription painkillers, heroin or the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

You cant put a price tag on the emotional devastation that the opioid epidemic has wrought on families from Portland to Pittsburgh. But quantifying the economic impact of the crisis would help in marshaling resources to fight it.

Last week, President Donald Trumps Council of Economic Advisers estimated that the opioid drug epidemic cost the country $504 billion in 2015in terms of lost lives, lost productivity, health care, treatment, criminal justice and other costs. Altarum, a nonprofit research and consulting institute dedicated to improving health and health care, arrived at a cost estimate of $95 billion for 2016 using a different methodology. Regardless of whether its $504 billion or $95 billion, these costs are far higher than what were spending on prevention and treatment, says Corey Rhyan, senior analyst at Altarums Center for Value in Health Care.

Last month, the Trump administration declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency. But neither that declaration nor last weeks report directed any new funding to the epidemic. Hogan Gidley, deputy While House press secretary, said in an email statement that the administration will continue discussions with Congress on the appropriate level of funding needed to address this crisis.

In the meantime, MONEY asked five experts to describe the resources needed to put a dent in the crisis.

Dr. Francis Collins

Director, National Institutes of Health
$500 million a year for research alone

The part that I can talk about is science, and how it can help us out of this terribly difficult public health emergency, says Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH currently spends about $116 million a year on opioid use disorder research, mostly through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the NIHs 27 institutes and centers. To accelerate the agencys various research initiatives, Collins says, the NIH would need four or five times the current spendingor roughly $500 million a year. (The NIHs annual budget is set by Congress, although the organizations directors then decide what priorities to fund within their budget.)

The NIH has three main research priorities on opioids, Collins says:

Developing medication-based addiction treatments that are both longer-lasting and easier to administer than the current options.
Developing an antidote to overdoses that can combat fentanyl, which is more potent than natural opioids and has on occasion proven resistant to the current antidote, Narcan.
Developing effective but non-addictive pain medications as an alternative to opioids.

The agency is working with private sector pharmaceutical firms and also with the Food and Drug Administration to develop and speed the approval of new medications. It is impressive to see the determination of all parties, Collins says. It will be expensive, but compared to the figure that the Council of Economic Advisers put out, $500 million is just 0.1% of $500 billion.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny

Co-director of Opioid Policy Research, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University
$60 billion over 10 years

We need to prevent more people from becoming addicted, and we need to give those who are addicted adequate treatment, Kolodny saysand yet were failing on both fronts. As people using opioids develop a tolerance for the drug, he explains, they eventually rely on it to function normally. When people first start using, opioids deliver an enjoyable endorphin rushbut later on, the drugs simply deliver what they need to get through the day without feeling sick. To break their dependency, people need medical help tapering off opioids.

Sara Howe

Bob Casey

Andrew Kessler

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