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Opioid Crisis Cost Washington State $9 Billion in 2016

A new study released as a prelude to Sen. Patty Murray's legislative effort to contain the opioid epidemic estimates the financial impacts of overdose deaths alone have cost Washington state $34 billion over the four years ending in 2016.

By Ryan Blethen

A new study released as a prelude to Sen. Patty Murray's legislative effort to contain the opioid epidemic estimates the financial impacts of overdose deaths alone have cost Washington state $34 billion over the four years ending in 2016.

The study from the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee pegs the cost of the opioid crisis to Washington residents at $9.19 billion in 2016, with roughly $7 billion of those costs attributed to the financial impacts of overdose deaths.

The study was released ahead of plans by Murray and Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander to introduce the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 on Tuesday. The study reviewed the financial impacts of fatalities, health-care spending, addiction treatment, criminal justice and lost productivity.

The proposed legislation would, among other actions, reauthorize grants to states and Native American tribes for opioid-related prevention, treatment and response, give states support for improving their Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and increase access to mental-health services in schools and community organizations.

Murray said the bill is a "serious step toward" tackling the many challenges posed by the opioid epidemic.

"Our bipartisan bill reflects many of the concerns and needs I've heard from people across Washington state, and across the country, about the importance of serious federal action to support communities on the front lines of the opioid crisis," Murray said.

The question is whether the bill goes far enough to disrupt the cycle of addiction by giving addicts help, both through treatment and by providing alternative drugs.

Caleb Banta-Green, the principal research scientist at the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI) at the University of Washington, said the committee's estimated financial impact of the opioid crisis of $9 billion in 2016 seems reasonable for Washington.

However, he said the legislation itself falls short because it fails to undermine the heroin market by making drugs like methadone easily and readily available to addicts and get them into treatment.

This legislation doesn't fix that, he said.

"To do so means that treatment medications, buprenorphine and methadone, have to be easier to get than heroin, every single day," Banta-Green said.

The Senate health committee's estimate of the financial impact of the opioid crisis is significantly higher than a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, which put the total costs at $78.5 billion.

Banta-Green said the proposed legislation may not have much impact in the West, since it will focus federal dollars in places like New England that are hardest hit by the epidemic.

CDC numbers show more than 42,000 people died nationally and about 764 in Washington state from opioids in 2016. In King County, according to the ADAI, deaths from heroin slightly decreased in 2016 to 118 from 132 in 2015. Prescribed opioids killed 107 in 2016 as opposed to 97 the prior year.

(c)2018 The Seattle Times

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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