Will Federal Dollars Solve the Opioid Crisis?

When we examine the ruthless problem that is drug and alcohol addiction on American soil, we often turn a blind eye to the sheer economic burden that also comes with substance abuse. We get stuck on the emotional and psychological tolls of addiction, and we pay no mind to the sheer economic and fiscal struggle that abounds from drug addiction and alcoholism.

We must consider the economic burden that comes from drug abuse, and the relative sense (or lack thereof) in addressing drug addiction by simply, “Throwing money at it.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction costs our nation roughly six-hundred billion dollars every year. These costs come from:

  • Lost workforce and productivity as a result of addicts being fired, addicts not working, and employed addicted dying. This is the greatest cost of them all. When an addict is not actively producing in the workforce, or when an employed addict becomes unemployed, this costs the nation a lot of money in what could be accomplished in the economy if addicts were not handicapped by addiction and were instead acting as productive members of society.
  • Poverty-stricken individuals who require welfare assistance through food stamps and government aid. This cost is levied on U.S. taxpayers.
  • Government-issued health insurance such as state Medicaid to help care for those impoverished addicts who cannot afford health insurance for themselves. This cost is also levied on U.S. taxpayers.
  • The cost of buying drugs, where American dollars are used frivolously to purchase drug substances or alcohol.
  • The costs of healthcare in hospitals and urgent care centers to treat addicts who, in turn, cannot afford these services themselves.
  • Legal fees in state legal offices to process and legally “handle” addicts who have wound up in the court system.
  • The costs of running federal prisons. The United States has more than two million Americans incarcerated in jail cells. More than fifty percent of such individuals are in jail for substance-related reasons. It costs about forty-five thousand dollars on average to house one drug addict in a jail cell for one year.
  • Costs in preventing crime. Drug-based crime is the top kind of crime that is dealt with amongst law enforcement officers. The majority of police efforts and the constant need to increase police efforts comes primarily from our country’s growing drug and alcohol problem.
  • The death toll of addiction is also very costly. Addicts die, and a low-cost funeral and burial will run about ten-thousand dollars.
  • The collateral damage costs of addiction, such as theft of valuable possessions to pay for drugs, damage and destruction to personal property due to drug-induced incidents, the wrecking of cars due to drugged or drunk driving, etc.
  • The cost to run and operate drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers. The average cost to put one addict through one rehab program is usually about twenty to thirty-thousand dollars.
  • The fiscal cost to the family members and loved ones of addicts is also a factor. Families often spend money “taking care of” addicts, providing for them, paying for them, covering their costs, feeding them, clothing them, buying possessions for them, housing them, etc.

From this list, we can see that the actual cost of substance abuse in America is quite significant. These costs are levied onto the American people year in and year out, and the costs appear to be growing every year. There is a lot of talk of increasing the budget for tackling drug addiction, but it is uncertain if that will provide the projected result in a reduction of the nation’s substance abuse problems.

A Request for More Funding

In October 2017, President Trump signed into place a “National Public Health Emergency” in regards to opioid addiction. This declaration immediately put the U.S. into a State of Emergency regarding opioids, which of course came with a request for emergency funding to address the problem.

At the time of the signing, the Trump Administration was only able to allocate sixty thousand dollars from the Federal Emergency Relief Fund. In December of last year, the Trump Administration petitioned Congress for an eight billion dollar grant to begin work on opioid abuse reduction, with another eleven billion to be added to the budget in December of 2018.

But the real questions here are “Will throwing more money at the addiction epidemic actually solve it?” “Is this a problem we can fix with money?” “Can you, ‘pay away’ addiction?” “If increased funding in the past did not solve the addiction epidemic, (which still grows to this day) will more funding in the future really solve it?”

Probably not.

This article is not meant to argue the appropriation of more funds to battle the addiction epidemic. However, it does intend to indicate that our current Administration if pretty shortsighted if it thinks we can simply add more money to law enforcement and government treatment centers and hope that that will “Solve addiction in the U.S.”

We will need far more than those efforts to fully address our nation’s drug problem. The biggest mistakes the federal government always makes when considering addiction (regardless of who is President) is a gross underestimation of the problem. Our drug abuse epidemic needs more effort and sweeping attention than just a few billion dollars and some more law enforcement.

The drug addiction plague is one perfectly described as being, “Sweeping, all-encompassing, and everywhere, all the time. A true pandemic.” To effectively reduce addiction statistics, we will need to effectively show people that recovery is possible. We will need to get into every American community with prevention efforts, education, awareness campaigns, school groups, household prevention measures, education for local law enforcement, naloxone emergency measures, local treatment program initiatives, etc.

Drug addiction of this order of magnitude simply cannot be solved on a federal level. Do we need federal direction and assistance in reducing addiction? Absolutely. Can the feds handle this problem on their own? Absolutely not. We can resolve, reduce, and eventually eliminate the drug addiction epidemic of the 21st century. But as CDC Doctor Anne Schuchat once said, “It took us twenty years to get into the addiction epidemic we are now in, we won’t get out of it overnight.”

Sources:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/drug-addiction-treatment-worth-its-cost

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-the-costs-of-drug-abuse-to-society-63037

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