letters | the scourge of Addiction

Misery can’t be quantified, but fiscal toll of opioid abuse is measurable

Deborah Kotz is right that it will take more than “tearing up painkiller prescriptions” to solve our nation’s growing heroin addiction problem (“Many on Medicare get painkillers from multiple doctors,” Feb. 20). While abusers of opioids often graduate to heroin, one must balance the need for access to opioids with concerns over potential abuse.

Each year, over 11 million people — 17 times the population of Boston — use painkillers for nonmedical reasons, accounting for more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. We can’t put a value on the misery and loss of life, but we can quantify the economic impact: Our research shows that society pays $55 billion in health care, criminal justice, and workplace disruptions annually. Efforts to deter overprescribing and abuse, such as states’ prescription drug monitoring programs and drug manufacturers’ tamper-resistant pills, are positive steps. But without a comprehensive approach that coordinates the efforts of doctors, communities, policy makers, employers, insurers, and law enforcement, we will continue to treat only part of the problem.

Alan G. White

Managing principal

Analysis Group


The writer is an economist who has researched the economic impact of prescription opioid abuse.

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