- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2017

The opioid crisis is killing thousands more Americans than previously thought and cost half a trillion dollars in 2015, the Trump administration said Monday in a report that recalculated the toll of prescription-drug and heroin abuse.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers said opioid-related fatalities have been underreported by 24 percent on death certificates, raising the death toll to more than 41,000 in 2015, up from about 33,000.

The crisis cost $504 billion, or 2.8 percent of gross domestic product, that year due to the loss of life and additional costs — such as addiction treatment, court costs and medical care — from those who survived their drug use, according to the council.

“This is over six times larger than the most recently estimated economic cost of the epidemic,” its report said, referring to a 2013 analysis.

The White House said figures are higher than usual because the epidemic has gotten worse, it adjusted for deaths that hadn’t been reported and it included heroin use, while previous studies focused on prescription drugs alone.

The council also said it accounted for the broader costs of overdose deaths, using a federal economic model that accounts for “other valuable activities in life besides work.”

“Previous estimates of the economic cost of the opioid crisis greatly underestimate it by undervaluing the most important component of the loss — fatalities resulting from overdoses,” the report said.

Preliminary estimates suggest the opioids crisis only got worse in 2016, with drug overdoses claiming more than 60,000 lives as dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl flood the heroin market.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury death in the U.S., outnumbering car crashes and gun-related deaths and prompting policymakers at every level of government to reassess its efforts to stamp out addiction.

The council said it was important to understand the full cost of the epidemic to assess “the benefits of fiscal and regulatory policies that limit opioid abuse in the United States.”

Last month, Mr. Trump declared a national emergency around the crisis to throw the “full war chest” of the government into the fight, cutting red tape to increase the number of treatment beds while cracking down on Chinese fentanyl traffickers and exploring non-opioid ways to treat veterans with chronic pain.

Mr. Trump said the epidemic is “ravaging so many families and communities” and would be a topic of discussion at his Cabinet meeting Monday, as his administration plots its next steps in the fight.

Critics say if the president were serious about the fight, he’d be lobbying for a major commitment of taxpayer funding.

The administration said it will ask Congress for more money — an end-of-year spending deal is looming — though Democrats fear he will underestimate how much is needed.

Senate Democrats have called for a $45-billion commitment, saying it is the same amount that GOP leaders included in their Obamacare replacement plan, which failed earlier this year.

The White House on Monday didn’t say how much money it might request. Instead, it highlighted its disbursement of $1 billion in grant money that Congress authorized late last year, while President Obama was still in office.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire Democrat, said the White House report “underscores the urgent need for increased federal funding to strengthen prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement efforts to combat this horrific crisis.”

“We know what we need to do in order to help save lives and stem the tide of this deadly epidemic,” she said. “Now, we need President Trump and his administration to support our call for at least an additional $45 billion to combat this crisis and help us get more funding to the hardest-hit states across the country like New Hampshire.”

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