Should Big Pharma Pay for the Opioid Crisis?

Speaking Their Language

So, let’s put this in terms that the powerful actors understand: dollars and cents.

Here are three critical valuations straight from the US Surgeon’s 2016 report, “Facing Addiction in America:”

  • Every dollar spent on substance abuse disorder treatment saves $4 in healthcare costs
  • Every dollar spent on substance abuse disorder treatment saves $7 in criminal justice costs
  • The consequences of untreated addiction costs the US economy approximately $442 Billion per year

Keep these figures in mind, and consider other common chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, none of which of the stigma currently attached to addiction. When afflicted, most people approach treatment for these chronic illnesses with a long-term view of their health.

The same is not true for addiction. Thus, we see relapses — which inevitably drive up societal costs.

However, those with a substance use disorder who DID seek long-term treatment demonstrated lower relapse rates — on par with these other chronic diseases. They compare like this:

  • Asthma Relapse Rate (post long-term treatment): 50%–70%
  • Diabetes Relapse Rate (post long-term treatment): 20%-50%
  • Hypertension Relapse Rate (post long-term treatment): 50%-70%
  • Addiction Relapse Rate (post long-term treatment): 40%-60%

Proper treatment means less relapses. Less relapses mean less economic burden.

My point is that pharmaceutical companies do have the opportunity — if not the obligation — to make a sizable contribution to the financial balance of fighting the addiction epidemic. However, this money is not enough.

It is no longer solely the responsibility of those of us in the rehabilitation and treatment industry to change the narrative and stereotypes surrounding addiction — it is ALL of ours as American citizens.

Investing not only money, but education in terms of treatment and recovery, is what will ultimately turn the tide.

Of course, one of the best ways to make the powerful actors take notice is to show them how inaction will affect their bottom lines. Whether through lawsuits, taxes, or even personal expense should a family member or loved one become afflicted— they will pay.

Unfortunately, we all will.