School of Public Policy Professor Helps Pin Down County-Level Costs of Opioid Epidemic

Posted March 20, 2018

The nation’s opioid epidemic exerts a per capita financial toll of as much as $8,734 in some U.S. counties, according to a new analysis released March 20, 2018, by an assistant professor in Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Public Policy and his co-author, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Scott Ganz, the Georgia Tech professor, and Alex Brill, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, calculated the cost of opioid-related costs for health care, criminal justice and worker productivity in states and counties of at least 2,500 residents across the country. They also examined the per capita costs associated with opioid-related deaths.

Among counties, they found that Jackson County, Indiana, had the highest per capita costs, at $727 per resident, when it comes to health care, criminal justice, and worker productivity costs. Add in mortality-related costs and Boone County, West Virginia, had the highest per capita costs at $8,734.

Among states, New Hampshire topped the list at $360 when only health care, criminal justice, and worker productivity costs were considered, Ganz and Brill found. Washington, D.C., while not technically a state, actually edged out New Hampshire non-mortality related costs, with a per person toll of $493.

West Virginia had the highest overall per capita costs when mortality expenditures were considered, with the bill coming to $4,378 per person.

Per capita costs among states were lowest in Iowa and Nebraska, the researchers found. Iowa had $108 in per capita health care, criminal justice, and worker productivity costs. Opioid-related per capita mortality costs came to $394 in Nebraska.

The researchers did not address the reasons for the regional discrepancies in their paper, The Geographic Variation in the Cost of the Opioid Crisis. But Ganz said a major reason is simply different rates of opioid addiction and deaths across the country.

“But, there are other drivers, too,” he said. “One of the reasons we include the non-mortality costs is to emphasize that the costs of the opioid crisis come from a variety of factors. For example, the cost per patient associated with opioid hospitalizations varies widely from county to county and state to state.”

The research should help policymakers address the crisis, Ganz said.

“Designing the right policy instrument requires not only deciding on the size of the response, but also identifying what areas of the country need our focus most,” he said. “Demonstrating the variability in the economic impact of the opioid crisis can help policymakers better target efforts and funding to the communities where it can have the most impact.”

The School of Public Policy is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech.

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