USA – A recently released congressional Joint Economic Committee (JEC) report estimates that opioid addiction has cost the United States nearly US$1.5 trillion in 2020—indicating a 37 percent increase since 2017.

According to the JEC report, the pandemic is responsible for much of the increase, with the dual factors of healthcare disruption and increased socioeconomic stress worsening addiction rates.

Opioid-related deaths soared during the pandemic, including from the powerful synthetic painkiller fentanyl, exacerbating an already tragic and costly nationwide crisis that accounted for 75 percent of the 107,000 drug overdose fatalities in 2021, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

It’s equivalent to one 737 (jet) every day going down, no survivors. It’s a mind-boggling number of deaths,” said Representative David Trone, who sits on the Congressional Joint Economic Committee (JEC) that issued the report.

The committee said in a Wednesday report that after adapting a method used by CDC scientists and adjusting for inflation, it found that the crisis cost the US economy US$1.47 trillion in 2020, a US$487 billion increase from 2019.

The rise in fatal opioid overdoses in 2021 suggests the total cost is likely to continue to increase,” the report said.

The report also emphasized racial disparities within the crisis. Despite the fact that white people are more likely to use opioids, black people accounted for 17 percent of fatal opioid overdoses in the United States in 2020, despite accounting for 12.5 percent of the population.

According to the report, black people have a more difficult time getting addiction treatment because they are less likely to have access to affordable healthcare and medications that can reduce the risk of fatal opioid overdoses.

President Joe Biden announced nearly US$1.5 billion in funding for access to opioid overdose medications, sanctions against traffickers, and increased law enforcement funding on Friday.

Against the backdrop of the JEC report, the first payments from a US$518 million settlement with the nation’s three largest opioid distributors will begin arriving in Washington communities in December, Associated Press has reported.

The disbursement will provide the much-needed cash officials can use to hire first responders or direct toward prevention, treatment, and other services.

Over the last two decades, overdoses of opioids, including both prescription painkillers and illicit drugs like heroin, have been linked to the deaths of over 500,000 Americans.

The spread of illegally produced fentanyl has recently resulted in an increase in deaths. So far, the opioid industry has agreed to settlements totaling more than US$40 billion nationwide.

The US$518 million settlement with distributors will be paid to Washington over the next 17 years, with the first payment of US$55 million due on December 1.

The remaining US$476 million will go toward combating the opioid crisis, such as substance abuse treatment, expanding access to overdose-reversal drugs, and providing housing, job placement, and other services to those struggling with addiction.

The remaining funds will be used to cover litigation expenses.

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