The opioid epidemic is costing West Virginia’s economy an estimated $8.8 billion a year, according to an analysis by a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and reported by investigative reporter Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, February 7.
Among all states, West Virginia shoulders the highest per-capita economic burden caused by the opioid crisis. The Mountain State also dedicates the largest share of its gross domestic product — 12 percent — to costs related to the epidemic, the study found.
“We’re losing $8.8 billion per year, at least one-eighth of the economy,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, West Virginia’s public health commissioner. “It seems we’ve been grossly underestimating the economic impact. We’ve never seen in the country a public health disaster impacting the economy like this.”
The study takes into account what states are spending on health care and substance abuse treatment criminal justice costs and lost worker productivity, as well as the societal burden of fatal overdose.
West Virgnia’s per-person cost to fight the opioid crisis is higher than any other state. The percentage of the state’s gross domestic product lost to the epidemic is more than double that of any other state.
West Virginia — $8.8 billion — $4,793 per capita — 12% of GDP
Maryland — $20,2 billion — $3,366 per capita — 5.4% of GDP
Ohio — $32.6 billion — $2,807 per capita — 5.3% of GDP
Kentucky — $10.1 billion — $2,271 per capita — $5.3% of GDP
Pennsylvania — $23 billion — $1,799 per capita — 3.2% of GDP
Virginia — $12.7 billion — $1,518 per capita — 2.7% of GDP
“What’s, unfortunately, unique to West Virginia, it’s not so much the rates of addiction, it’s the rates of death,” said Alex Brill, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, in his interview with reporter Eyre. “What’s most concerning is the high rate of opioid-related deaths.”
In 2012, then-state Attorney General Darrelll McGraw filed lawsuits against more than a dozen drug wholesalers, accusing them of fueling West Virginia’s drug problem by shipping an excessive number of pain pills to the state. The lawsuit alleged that the drug problem cost the state $430 million a year, and the projected cost would rise to $695 million by 2017.
During the past two years, the drug distributors settled the lawsuits with the state for a combined $44 million, while admitting no wrongdoing.
Since January 2017, dozens of towns, cities and counties in West Virginia have filed lawsuits against drug wholesalers and manufacturers, seeking to recoup costs related to the opioid epidemic. Those cases have been consolidated with similar lawsuits filed in other states. A federal judge in Cleveland is overseeing the litigation.
West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. In 2016, 881 people fatally overdosed — a record number.
“Eighty-three percent of children in foster care are in foster care because of the drug problem,” said Bill Crouch, Secretary of the WV Department of Health and Human Resources.