Weighing costs of drug abuse prevention vs. treatment
At recent local forums on the opioid epidemic, members of the public submitted questions they wanted the local media to answer in its reporting.
One question was: What are the costs of addiction vs. the costs of preventing it?
The consensus among experts and studies is clear on this question: There are prevention strategies that have been proved to be effective, and the costs of implementing those strategies is drastically less expensive than the cost of responding to substance abuse.
What sometimes goes uncalculated, too, are the costs of addiction that go well beyond treatment and health care expenses.
“When we’re able to prevent the onset of substance abuse, as a society we’re able to benefit from what that individual gives to the community,” said Angela DiVito, executive director of Coalition for a Drug-Free Mahoning County. “They’re able to provide for their families. They’re productive workers who benefit their businesses and pay taxes. They are able to contribute time and creativity and so many positives to the community. We lose those things when we don’t provide prevention and addiction happens.”
THE EPIDEMIC: One of the latest harrowing headlines related to the opioid crisis was that the national epidemic again led to a decrease in U.S. life expectancy.
In 2016, more than 4,000 Ohioans died of unintentional drug overdoses. Although the overdose statistics for 2017 have not yet been finalized, they are widely expected to be worse, and to increasingly be driven by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller that is 100 times more potent than heroin.
COSTS: For many years, studies have estimated that for every $1 spent on substance-abuse prevention, on average, $10 is saved in treatment costs.
“Multiple studies indicate that every dollar spent on prevention results in an average of $10 in long-term savings. Depending on the study and the approach examined, cost savings have ranged from $2 to $20 for every dollar spent on prevention,” said a 2011 report by the Community Prevention Initiative, a project administered by the Center for Applied Research Solutions.
With the opioid epidemic worsening in recent years, some experts believe the ratio now is closer to $1 on prevention to $18 in treatment savings.
By many measures, the overall cost of substance abuse is significant.
For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse put the 2013 cost of prescription opioid abuse at $78.5 billion — higher, if taking into account other forms of substance abuse