If you have been reading or listening to the news lately, you know that the opioid epidemic in America is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, there is a good chance that you have been personally addicted by this modern plight on our society. Even if you don’t know someone who has struggled with opioid addiction, this crisis is far-reaching and goes well beyond the nation’s emergency rooms. Opioid addiction is devastating the workforce and the economy, which means it could be impacting you in ways you don’t even realize.
A Smaller, Less Experienced Workforce
As of 2016, experts estimated that over 2.7 million people in the US are addicted to opioids. As a result, fewer citizens are able to participate in the labor force. While many are quick to assume that young people account for most of the addicted population, the majority of addicts are white men between the ages of 45-64. This means that some of the most experienced and knowledgeable resources within the workforce are being sidelined. While it is difficult to know the exact role that opioid addiction is playing in the steep decline in labor force participation that began in 1999, researchers estimate that 20% can be attributed to opioid addiction.
The Toll on Families
As more people succumb to opioid addiction, more babies are born already addicted. In fact, every 19 minutes an opioid addicted infant is born in the US and their only choice of treatment is to go cold turkey. This means constant monitoring by hospital staff as the baby experiences the painful effects of withdrawal. If symptoms persist, doctors will administer methadone or morphine to keep the baby alive. As these babies develop, they will continue to face challenges and usually suffer from learning disabilities and trouble with social engagement. This can often begin a cycle of problems that places a burden on community and government resources.
An Overwhelmed Foster Care System
Even before the opioid epidemic began to sweep the US, the foster care system often had trouble finding suitable homes for children who needed temporary or permanent housing. With more parents overdosing and ending up in legal trouble, there is a flood of new children entering the system. Again, this shifts the responsibility of childcare to the community and government agencies.
An Increase in Drug Related Arrests
As you might expect, along with more drug use comes more drug arrests as people are caught selling and distributing drugs and committing crimes to support their habit. Ultimately, this means an overtaxed legal system and crowded jails that are having trouble keeping up with the influx of new inmates.
With all these different costs, it is estimated that the opioid crisis costs Americans $78.5 billion every year. However, many experts argue that this number is low because it is based off of 2013 statistics and only includes addiction to prescription opioids and not the cheaper street versions of heroin and fentanyl. From an economic standpoint, we can begin to try and estimate numerical costs, but in reality, the cost to families and their communities is simply incalculable.