While the devastating personal effects of addiction, although immeasurable, have always been clear, a new report concludes the opioid-related health crisis cost a staggering $8.2 billion in economic damage for Long Island in 2017.
That total accounted for 4.5 percent of Long Island’s gross domestic product of $182.5 billion that year. In 2017, Long Island’s total private sector healthcare costs associated with opioids amounted to $172 million, with Suffolk County racking up $117 million of that tab and $136 million of a total $200 million in lost productivity.
“The opioid epidemic did not just happen overnight. It was the result of a sophisticated effort by a slew of drug manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and individuals to put profit over people,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “And as this report outlines, not only has this crisis affected our community by taking young lives too soon and ripping families apart, but it has significantly impacted our economy. We are committed to end this epidemic once and for all by bringing all stakeholders to the table.”
The study, funded by grants from the Long Island Community Foundation and the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation, and made public during National Recovery Month, was conducted by the Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization founded in 1991 with a commitment to improving public policies and private practices to better the economic and social conditions of all New Yorkers. The 41 pages of results were unveiled at the Hauppauge-based recovery center Thrive Long Island September 4, the same day the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced more than $1.8 billion in funding to states to combat the issue.
“With this new report, we now better understand the incredible impact of this crisis on Long Island’s economy,” said Senator Anna Kaplan, chair of the state Senate Committee on Commerce, Small Business, and Economic Development. “This data should send a strong message to anyone questioning the need for further investment in treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention efforts, and it’s a reminder for those of us working to address this that it continues to pose an existential threat to Long Island communities.”
Nassau and Suffolk counties faced 617 opioid-related deaths in 2017, a third of which were people between the ages 25 and 34, and 76 percent of which were men. White people accounted for 85 percent of opioid-related deaths, the report said, while African Americans were 13 percent of the total. The data revealed the loss of life — nearly 20 percent of the deaths occurring in Suffolk County — accounts for the greatest economic toll, costing $6.9 billion annually. With each person’s death, Long Island loses a lifetime of his or her earnings and spending.
“While states constantly look for new ideas to create economic growth, our research shows that one way to stimulate growth would be to focus on the health of the community,” said Jonas Shaende, chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute. “Without a healthy workforce, businesses will continue to be hamstrung by productivity losses and other health-related costs. Addiction is not just a physical ailment hurting the lives of our community members, it is a disease that affects every facet of life in a community and blights the future.”
Fiscal Policy Institute policy analyst Shamier Settle said rigorous analysis is the first step at beginning to find data-driven solutions to solve this problem for Long Island and New York state. Researchers reviewed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Department of Health to come to their conclusions. According to the report, the issue is largely driven by the introduction of inexpensive, yet highly potent, synthetic drugs like fentanyl.
“The opioid epidemic has ravaged American communities across our nation, and, unfortunately, Long Island has not been immune,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who filed the nation’s most extensive lawsuit against the manufacturers, Sackler Family, and distributors of opioids for their role in this national epidemic. “Almost 4000 Long Islanders have lost their lives to the opioid crisis. Long Island has not only seen this death and destruction firsthand, but this crisis has cost our local communities billions of dollars while massively straining hospital networks and other health care providers. We must work together as a community to put out this national fire, and we must hold the company and family responsible for this epidemic financially accountable.”
The report estimates that 45,450 individuals on Long Island are living with opioid addiction. The professions most impacted include health care, education, retail, and professional services. While the total cost is slightly down from the $8.4 billion in 2016, the report essentially concluded the crisis costs Long Islanders $22.4 million a day.
“This report shows that a healthy economy requires a healthy community, and without a solid foundation, you can’t grow for the future,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. “We cannot continue to view addiction as a personal problem. It is a community problem, and we hope this report spurs us on to work collectively to address this costly epidemic.”
The CDC announced more than $900 million in new funding for a three-year cooperative agreement with states, territories, and localities to advance the understanding of the issues and to scale-up prevention and response activities, releasing $301 million the first year. These grants come after the Health Resources and Services Administration, in August, awarded nearly $400 million in grants to community health centers, rural organizations, and academic institutions to help them establish and expand access to substance abuse and mental health services. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awarded approximately $932 million to all 50 states as part of its State Opioid Response grants. By the end of 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will have awarded more than $9 billion in grants to states and local communities to help increase access to treatment and prevention services since the start of President Donald Trump’s administration.
From 2017 to 2018, provisional counts of drug overdose deaths dropped by five percent, and overdose deaths from opioids went down 2.8 percent. The number of individuals reporting pain reliever misuse decreased 11 percent from 2017 to 2018, with fewer than 10 million Americans now reporting misuse. Heroin-related opioid use also decreased significantly among young adults.
“Our country is seeing the first drop in overdose deaths in more than two decades. More Americans are getting treatment for addiction, and lives are being saved,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Aza. “At the same time, we are still far from declaring victory. We will continue executing on the department’s five-point strategy for combating the opioid crisis, and laying the foundation for a healthcare system where every American can access the mental healthcare they need.”
Announced in April of 2017, the five-point strategy to combat the opioids crisis includes better addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services; better data; better pain management; better targeting of overdose reversing drugs; and better research.