How much is the opioid crisis costing governments?

Some of its expenses are easy to quantify, but most aren’t.

By Liz Farmer | Governing

Anyone who’s familiar with addiction knows that it’s insidious: It sneakily takes hold until the addict suddenly doesn’t recognize his life anymore. Paying for addiction is like that, too.

“The costs build up slowly over time, so you almost don’t even notice it,” says Mark Chalos, a Nashville-based partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, a law firm counseling counties considering opioid-related lawsuits. “But when our people really started to dig into the budgets, they realized the costs are more significant.”

Of course, there are the easier costs to quantify.

For example, Pennsylvania estimates it is spending $5 million a year on the overdose-reversal drug naloxone. And in Middletown, Ohio, City Councilman Dan Picard estimates that each ambulance run for an overdose costs the city $1,140, which includes the cost of naloxone and wear-and-tear on the ambulance. From October 2016 to October 2017, Middletown answered 916 overdose calls, taking more than $1 million out of its $30 million annual budget.

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