A startling new report shows how financially devastating the opioid epidemic has been for the people and businesses of Long Island. According to research from the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI), Nassau and Suffolk counties suffered an estimated $16.6 billion in economic damages in 2016 and 2017—equivalent to roughly $22.4 million a day. That equates to a stunning 4.5 percent of Long Island’s gross domestic product (GDP).
According to the report, 45,450 individuals on Long Island are currently living with opioid addiction. Those figures compound quickly for employers, who in 2017 suffered average costs of more than $5,000 per employee.
Aggressive Marketing of Opioids Pushed Suffolk County into Addiction
The human cost of the opioid crisis has been shown through the millions of lives nationwide that have been impacted by the abundance of cheap, highly addictive opioid drugs. Since 1999, opioid overdoses have increased by more than six times, with 70,000 Americans dying in 2017 as a result of an overdose.
Much of the devastation is the result of pharmaceutical companies employing aggressive marketing tactics to swell painkiller prescriptions and maximize profits. The FPI’s report is the first to lay out these damages in local, economic terms.
“There is a misconception that the opioid crisis is happening to someone else,” Jonas Shaende, chief economist with the FPI, told Newsday. “That’s not true. The toll on businesses is very, very high.”
Estimates were drawn from how addictions and overdoses burden institutions through the costs of medical treatment, emergency services and law enforcement. In turn, costs are levied on businesses, taxpayers and social services through lost productivity and healthcare expenses. According to the FPI, Long Island’s healthcare, education and retail sectors have been most impacted by the opioid crisis.
‘Millions of Dollars Lost in Productivity’
The authors of the FPI study say they hope the report will assist lawmakers in drafting legislation that accounts for the total impact of the crisis, including damages done to individuals and institutions on both human and economic levels.
“The opioid epidemic is not only ruining the lives of young people and families on Long Island and throughout the country but also our business community, where millions of dollars are lost in productivity,” Kevin Law, president and chief executive of the Long Island Association, told Newsday.
Nassau and Suffolk counties saw 617 overdose deaths in 2017—the highest on record for the two counties. That same year, private businesses on Long Island suffered $200 million in lost productivity as a result of addiction and overdoses. During the same period, drug-related private healthcare costs climbed to a staggering $172 million.
Drug Companies to Blame
Experts have blamed the introduction of cheap synthetic opioids like fentanyl for surging overdose rates. But the crisis has been exacerbated by drug companies, who, for much of the last two decades, pushed painkiller prescriptions on doctors and patients at an unprecedented rate—an allegation opioid makers like Johnson & Johnson resent and vehemently deny.
A number of pharmaceutical companies have since been sued for fueling opioid addiction and overdose rates. Last month, in a first for the country, a judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state of Oklahoma $572 million for its role in expanding that state’s addiction crisis.
Citing the company’s devious marketing tactics, District Judge Thad Balkman said, “[The pharmaceutical giant] caused an opioid crisis that’s evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome.”
About the OK judgment, Simmons Hanly Conroy named Shareholder Paul Hanly stated in an interview with CNN’s Victor Blackwell:
“This is a very positive ruling for all of the communities that we represent—more than 2,000 are in litigation—and this was important because for the first time, a court with a full body of evidence before it looked at both sides of the argument and concluded a) that there is an opioid epidemic, b) that it’s a public nuisance, and c) that, in this case, Johnson & Johnson was the cause of that nuisance.”
Similar cases have been brought against drug manufacturers elsewhere. Earlier this year, the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharmaceuticals, was hit with a lawsuit from the state of New York. That case alleges Purdue triggered the opioid epidemic through similarly aggressive marketing tactics. With public pressure mounting on Purdue, the company officially filed for bankruptcy in White Plains, NY on Sept. 16.
Over time, Purdue’s settlement could be worth $12 billion, with $3 billion coming directly from the Sackler family. Despite the enormous cost and the federal bankruptcy court filing, neither Purdue nor the Sackler family has any intention of admitting to wrongdoing, according to a statement issued by the board’s chairman.
While the details of Purdue’s $12-billion settlement continue to sharpen into focus, it’s important to remember that there is still a long way to go. In addition to Purdue, dozens of other defendants have been named in ongoing federal litigation. The first bellwether MDL trial is set for October.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from FPI’s study is that it reflects only two American counties. When one considers the thousands of other communities throughout the country that have been destroyed by opioids, the total damage is truly jaw-dropping. Communities all across America still need fixing—millions of lives depend on it.