As a result of the pandemic, the U.S. health care system was disrupted, reducing access to substance abuse treatment and exacerbating social and economic stress that can worsen addiction. This contributed to a significant increase in the number of Americans diagnosed with opioid use disorder and in the number of fatal opioid overdoses.
In addition to its effects on survivors, families and communities, the spike in opioid use disorder cases and fatal overdoses during the pandemic increased the economic toll of the opioid crisis in 2020. Adapting an approach used by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Joint Economic Committee estimates the opioid epidemic cost the United States nearly $1.5 trillion in 2020 alone—up 37% from 2017, when the CDC last measured the cost.
The coronavirus pandemic also shed light on the racial disparities among those suffering from opioid use. Although opioid use is more common among white Americans, Black adults and teens experienced a steeper increase in the rate of fatal opioid overdoses compared to their white counterparts over the last decade.
To help address the opioid epidemic, federal legislation and efforts by the Biden administration have improved access to and funding for the medication and treatment services needed to reduce addiction. However, given the scale of the crisis, more funding and action across federal, state and local government is needed to better address the crisis at hand.