US spent $74B on healthcare for youth affected by opioid crisis in 2017

The opioid epidemic adversely affected about 2.2 million U.S. children and adolescents in 2017, with related healthcare costs totaling $74 billion for the year, according to a Nov. 13 report from United Hospital Fund and Boston Consulting Group. 

Researchers examined peer-reviewed literature and conducted expert interviews to estimate the amount of children under age 18 who: 

  • Are living with a parent who has opioid use disorder.
  • Have had a parent die from an opioid overdose.
  • Have a parent in prison for a heroin-related offense.
  • Are in foster care or living with relatives due to household opioid abuse.
  • Have opioid use disorder or accidentally ingested an opioid.

Cost projections for 2017 and 2030 were calculated by multiplying each state's percentage of the national number of children affected in 2017 by the estimated national cost for the respective year. 

In 2017, children affected by the opioid crisis cost the U.S. a lifetime total of $180 billion, with healthcare expenditure constituting $74 billion of that amount. The epidemic's effect on children varied widely by state, with West Virginia reporting the highest rate — 54 of every 1,000 children in the state were affected by opioid use in 2017. California had the lowest rate — 20 per 1,000 children — but the highest number of children affected (196,000). The national rate of adolescents affected by the opioid epidemic is 28 per 1,000 children. 

The number of affected children is estimated to reach 4.3 million by 2030 if current trends continue. The estimated lifetime cost for 2030 is $400 billion, including spending on healthcare, special education, child welfare and criminal justice. 

"These estimates should not cause despair. Instead, they highlight the urgent need to take action now to help these children and their families," Suzanne Brundage, study co-author and director of UHF's Children's Health Initiative, said in a Nov. 13 news release. The report includes 10 strategies to help children affected by opioids. 

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