(HealthDay News) — Abuse of opioids costs the US economy $78.5 billion a year, according to a study published in Medical Care.

Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed the financial toll of opioid abuse, including direct health care costs, lost productivity, and costs to the criminal justice system. The team, led by Curtis Florence, PhD, of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, found that health care accounted for about 30% of the costs associated with opioid abuse in 2013. Total spending due to increased health care and substance abuse treatment costs reached $28 billion. Insurance covered most of these costs.

Nearly 25% of the economic burden was shouldered by public sources. They included Medicaid, Medicare, and other public insurance, as well as government-funded treatment programs. State and local governments shouldered most of the $7.7 billion in criminal justice-related costs. They also lost tax revenue because productivity slipped, the researchers noted.

“The costs that we can identify, however, do help increase our understanding of the impact of the epidemic,” the authors write. “These estimates can assist decision makers in understanding the magnitude of adverse health outcomes associated with prescription opioid use such as overdose, abuse, and dependence.” The researchers said they hope their findings will lead to better ways to deal with the epidemic.

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1. Florence CS, Zhou C, Luo F, Xu L. The Economic Burden of Prescription Opioid Overdose, Abuse, and Dependence in the United States, 2013. Medical Care: October 2016 54:10;901–906. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000625.
2. Pollack, HA. Prescription Opioid Disorders are a $78.5 Billion Problem. Medical Care: October 2016 54:10;899–900. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000652.