Congressional Report: Opioid Overdoses Cost U.S. $1 Trillion Annually

An Illinois firefighter treats an overdose victim as she is transported to a hospital.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

A report from the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking concludes that not only are the deaths of Americans from opioid overdose at a record high but the cost to the country is $1 trillion annually.

“Whether measured in lives or in dollars, the United States’ drug overdose epidemic should shock everyone,” the report states. “It is unacceptable.”

Commission Chairs Rep. David Trone (D-MD) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), along with Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), released the final bipartisan report on Tuesday.

The Commission also has representatives from seven Executive Branch departments and agencies and four subject-matter experts “chosen for their deep experience and expertise on this topic.”

The report announcement said, in part:

Since 1999, more than one million Americans have died from drug overdoses — far more than all of the U.S. service members killed in battle in every war throughout our nation’s history. The number of our citizens lost to opioids each year is more than double the number killed by firearms, motor vehicle accidents, or suicide.

Synthetic opioids – primarily fentanyl – were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the over 100,000 reported drug overdose deaths in the United States in the 12-month period ending in June 2021. According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, this rate is up 30% from the year prior.

Throughout the Commission’s work, it has become abundantly clear that this cannot be narrowly defined as a local- or state-level public health concern. In 2018, it was estimated that overdose fatalities cost the United States $696 billion. With the rise in overdose deaths in years since, it is fair to estimate that fatal overdoses are now at least a $1 trillion annual cost. Given this demonstrated financial strain and its devastating human impact, it is undeniable that the epidemic presents a threat to our national security and global competitiveness.

The report made a number of recommendations, including:

  • Establish strategies to reduce demand, such as increasing prevention resources and access to treatment, as central priorities in the fight against opioid trafficking;
  • Develop a unified, central body to coordinate planning, implementation, and evaluation of all U.S. drug control policies;
  • Disrupt drug supply through targeted oversight and enforcement;
  • Collaborate with other countries involved in the production and distribution of synthetic opioids and their chemical precursors;
  • Improve data collection and analysis to allow for more timely and effective responses on the ground in our communities.

“Since 1999, we’ve lost more than one million Americans to drug overdoses,” Trone said. “That’s one million moms, dads, sons, and daughters lost because our country’s response to the opioid epidemic has failed,” adding:

It’s time to come together, from all levels of government and both sides of the aisle, to address this epidemic and put an end to it once and for all. The Commission’s informed proposals must serve as a roadmap for our country’s leadership, including Congress, to take swift, deliberate action in the months to come.

“274 Americans die every day from drug overdoses—that’s one person every five minutes, and every day it gets worse,” Cotton said. “We must destroy the cartels and drug trafficking networks that flood our streets with these poisons to protect our communities.”

David Luckey, co-leader of the RAND Corporation team, which helped to prepare the report for the Commission, said:

This report exemplifies the best of what our country can and must do to come together and address a complicated and complex national security problem. The recommendations laid out in this report provide a path to achieving a consensus strategic approach toward reducing this national security threat and saving American lives.

The Washington Examiner reported on the drugs poisoning Americans, many of which come from Communist China:

Fentanyl has become the predominant drug in recent years, with Mexico becoming the dominant supplier in 2021. Border officials reported stopping more deliveries of fentanyl at the border than heroin in 2021.

Many of these drugs are acquired through legitimate and illicit Chinese suppliers, the 2020 DEA National Drug Threat Assessment said. Cartels then use the drugs and chemicals to produce counterfeit versions of common drugs, such as Oxycontin, Xanax, or Adderall, the DEA said. Fentanyl is connected to approximately 64,000 overdose deaths in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drug overdose deaths have more than doubled in recent years, from about 44,000 in 2013, to more than 100,000 between May 2020 and April 2021. Overdose incidents are responsible for more deaths in the U.S. each year than firearms, suicide, homicide or car crashes, according to the report.

“The United States has never experienced such a rapid and unprecedented shift in illegal drug markets, especially a shift that is causing so much death,” the report states.

Follow Penny Starr on Twitter


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.