The Opiate Crisis and the Hidden Costs of Addiction

What’s really going on with opiates, opioids, and Rx painkillers in the U.S.? Expert Warren Rivera – a former DEA Special Agent with years of experience in drug diversion – explores here.

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One American dies every 19 minutes

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), during 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 U.S. deaths, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, an American dies every 19 minutes from opioid or heroin overdose.

Opiate addicts are switching from prescription pain killers to heroin now that physicians are now more reluctant than ever to prescribe opioids. This forces desperate patients to seek relief anyway possible, even if it means turning to street drugs like heroin or some other form of illegally produced opiate. As a result, the opiate crisis comes with a steep price and is costly to everyone, even those who abstain and live a healthy lifestyle.

What is really happening behind the curtain? What are the true costs of this epidemic in the United States? Expert Warren Rivera (former DEA Special Agent) explores here. Then, we invite your questions in the comments section at the end. Your feedback, experience, and opinions are welcomed, too!

What are the hidden costs of opiate and opioid abuse?

1. Increased healthcare and insurance costs

Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs. This results in higher healthcare cost for all Americans nationwide. Another under reported statistic contributing to the high medical costs are the thousands of drug abusers that overdosed and survived by receiving emergency medical treatment. There are also thousands of struggling drug addicts who enter rehabilitation facilities and relapse after completing these expensive programs.

2. The loss of life

The fact that we lost 52,404 people last year to overdose drug deaths is astounding and higher than any previous year on record. Current statistics show Americans are more likely to die from a drug overdose than in a traffic accident or to gun violence. This figure is staggering and expected to rise in the coming years making the need to identify prescription drug addicts and addiction even more urgent.

3. Increased government and social costs

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) indicates the total financial cost of drug abuse exceeds $700 billion dollars annually for healthcare, criminal justice and lost labor productivity. This trend will only change through prevention and education in all segments of society.

4. A hidden cost to families: Victims of the opiate crisis are scarred for life

Ask a parent who has lost a child or anyone who has lost a loved one to addiction and they will tell you the scar is for life. The person who dies from an overdose is not the only victim. Additional victims are loved ones left behind only to wonder what they could have done differently to prevent the tragedy.

How can we stop the madness?

Stopping the Rx drug problem is something that can benefit all Americans. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 1 in 7 Americans will face substance abuse addiction and only 10% of those addicted receive treatment. The U.S. Surgeon General reports that every dollar invested on treatment saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs.

The only solution for the addict is abstinence and – this too – comes at a price. The addict has to acknowledge their problem and then make a conscious decision to abstain from their drug of choice every minute of every day. In order to succeed in life, they must focus on a healthy lifestyle and strive to make positive contributions to society.

This opiate crisis will continue until availability of treatment for Opioid Use Disorder is dramatically increased throughout the country. Until this occurs, opiate addicts who are unable to receive treatment will likely remain in the cycle of addiction.

About the Author: If you would like to learn more illegal drug trends, how to prevent the diversion of pharmaceuticals or receive training from a retired DEA Special Agent Drug Diversion Expert Warren Rivera, please visit or
Reference Sources: USA Today: Surgeon General on Substance Addiction
CDC: Opiate and Opioid Crisis
CDC: Vital Signs: Painkiller Overdoses
About the author
Warren Rivera is a retired Assistant Special Agent in Charge from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Rivera is an experienced public speaker, trainer and an expert in the diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances. Mr. Rivera currently owns Training Idea, LLC, a private consulting firm that provides training on DEA matters to the healthcare industry, law enforcement and the community.
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