Estimating the Economic Burden of the Opioid Epidemic

The annual economic burden of the opioid epidemic in Virginia is estimated to have reached nearly $3.5 billion in 2020. This burden is carried by Virginia's workers, employers, and governments, and includes both future losses and current direct spending that could have been avoided.

Cost Breakdown

Virginia families and businesses take on a large amount of these costs, mostly due to lost future worker productivity. Federal, state, and local governments also see increased healthcare and government costs and lost future tax revenues. The cost burden of the opioid epidemic is split among several sectors.

Opioid Costs in Virginia:

By Sector and by Payer

Flow chart showing the economic burden of the opioid epidemic in Virginia. Total Opioid Cost is $3,475,516,227. The total opioid cost is shown as two different methods of breaking down the cost, each with three branches. The first method, Cost by Category splits into three branches: Lost labor, equaling $2,316,967,811; Health care, equaling $638,725,642; and Crime/other, equaling $519,822,774. The second method, Cost by Payer also splits into three branches: Household, equaling $1,859,024,987; State and local government, equaling $566,646,438; and Federal government equaling $1,049,844,802.

By Category, Lost Labor: $2,316,967,811. The largest component of these 2020 productivity costs is due to deaths from overdose, estimated at nearly $1.9 billion, while losses due to nonfatal opioid use exceeded $440 million

By Category, Health Care: $638,725,642. This total combines direct and indirect health care cost in each locality. Direct costs represent emergency and inpatient visits for opioid overdose, and other opioid-related visits. Indirect costs represent treatment for opioid-related conditions, such as HIV and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

By Category, Crime/Other: $519,822,774. This figure estimates government expenditures for public services needed to respond to the opioid epidemic, mainly criminal justice costs, child & family assistance costs, and education costs.

By Payer, Household: $1,861,670,853. The largest portion of the economic burden is held by households and the private sector, which include lost wages and increased private healthcare costs.

By Payer, State/Local Gov't: $564,655,371. The share of the economic burden held by state and local governments include loss of future tax revenue, contributions to Medicaid and other opioid-related healthcare costs, and necessary expenditures required from the criminal justice system, child and family services, and K-12 education.

By Payer, Federal Gov't: $1,049,190,004. The share of the economic burden held by the federal government includes loss of income tax revenue, public health insurance costs (such as Medicaid) and costs in K-12 education.

Mapping the Economic Burden of the Opioid Epidemic

Not all Virginia counties and cities experience the same economic burden caused by the opioid epidemic. The map below shows the county and city breakdown of per-capita costs (total costs divided by the total population) for each sector.

Scroll over the map below to explore how the opioid crisis impacted counties and independent cities in Virginia. Click the tabs at the top of the map to change which sector is being shown on the map. Per-capita costs are total costs divided by the total population for each sector.

The Human Toll

The largest component of these labor losses is due to deaths from opioid drug overdose, estimated at nearly $1.9 billion.

In calculating the economic costs of loss of life, it’s important to remember that these estimates do not include the value of lives lost, which are measureless. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is committed to ending the opioid epidemic, which claims thousands of lives every year.

VDH's Opioid-Reduction Efforts

VDH runs many programs to reduce opioid use and overdose, including:

  • Partnering with emergency departments to link those who have experienced an overdose with peer support and treatment programs;
  • Distributing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “It Only Takes a Little to Lose A Lot” media campaign across Virginia;
  • Learning more about populations affected by opioid use through data and surveillance, and;
  • Sponsoring learning opportunities for health care providers through an online education platform.

Downloadable Publications and Data