Addressing the Opioid Epidemic

Addressing the Opioid Epidemic


The opioid epidemic has become one of the deadliest public health crises in the United States. Over 42,000 people died of an opioid overdose in the U.S. in 2016—more than the number of people killed by motor vehicle accidents during the same period of time.[1] Approximately 2.6 million Americans currently suffer from opioid use disorder (OUD), a medical condition characterized by a problematic pattern of opioid use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.[2] Despite the existence of evidence-based treatment for this disorder, more than 75 percent of people with OUD do not receive any treatment at all, largely due to a fragmented and flawed addiction treatment delivery system, and deeply entrenched stigma about addiction and drug use.[3] In addition to the cost of human lives, the economic cost of the opioid crisis was estimated to be $504 billion in 2015 alone.[4]

LJAF’s goal is to save lives and reduce the social, economic, and criminal justice costs of opioid use disorder (OUD). We believe a key way to stem the tide of OUD-related deaths and halt the growing costs of this epidemic is to expand access to effective treatment. Treating addiction as a chronic disease with a combination of medication and behavioral supports is the most promising approach based on the available evidence. Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of people with OUD receive medication, and of those who do, only 35 percent stay in treatment for a full year. We want to make it easy for people with OUD to receive treatment when and where they need it, and we want to make sure the infrastructure exists to treat OUD like other chronic diseases over the long term. We also aim to reduce the prevalence of OUD by decreasing the unnecessary and illicit supply of opioids through effective prescribing and criminal justice policies. Finally, we seek to test, evaluate, and scale evidence-based harm reduction interventions, including increased naloxone access and syringe service programs that could prevent overdose deaths.

[1] CDC 12 Month-ending Provisional Counts of Drug Overdose Deaths by Drug or Drug Class: United States; Gun Violence Archive 2016; National Safety Council 2016

[2] American Society of Addiction Medicine Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures

[3] Blanco et. al 2014

[4] “The Underestimated Cost of the Opioid Crisis,” The Council of Economic Advisers, November 2017