Hidden Costs: how we’re paying for the opioid epidemic

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They are not necessarily the drugs of choice. Experts say they are just easy to get addicted to. 
Morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin, heroin, opium–the list goes on and so do the problems.

“Visits to the emergency department for opioid overdose have tripled just since 2010,” said Ann Zenk from the Wisconsin Hospital Association in Madison.

There are about 3,000 opioid-related ER visits every year in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
While These patients aren’t clogging up hospitals, they’re often treated first in the emergency room. and their treatments get more intensive as the addiction goes on. 

Intense treatment means intense bills.
The Office of Economic Advisors says just one opioid-related hospital visit can cost as much as $100,000.

Many opioid abusers can’t afford their visits to the emergency room. And who picks up the tab? Well, we do. That can often lead to higher hospital bills and insurance premiums for all of us.

“All of the debt that hospitals take on has to be spread out somewhere so they can continue to provide care in their community,” said Zenk.

And in Wisconsin, addiction and Medicaid often go together. 

“Reimbursement we receive from Medicaid doesn’t totally cover the cost of providing that care in our Wisconsin hospitals, so the hospital ends up taking that loss,” she said.

Many hospitals have repeat visits from abusers, and that can take a toll on morale.

“Am I going to be able to do anything for this person?” said Zenk. “Maybe they’ve been back for two overdoses or three. We found people in our data that had been back and forth to the ER over six times with an overdose.”

Uncompensated care makes our medical expenses more painful, but there is another arena of opioid abuse that is costing us, as well–foster care.

“Every case has one or both of the biological parents–drugs,” said Representative Pat Snyder, co-chair for the state’s task force on foster care.

Snyder says more than half of the children in foster care are there for that very reason–opioid abuse from the parents.
And it is down the road where that becomes costly. Once these kids hit 18 and age-out of the system, it costs taxpayers $300,000 per person.

“One out of two end up in our jail system, one out of five are homeless, many of them are on state assistance for years and years and years,” said Snyder.

Course-correcting this financial black hole will not happen overnight.

“It doesn’t necessarily lend itself to one simple solution,” said Senator Ron Johnson. “There are no simple solutions.”

Johnson says the best way out of this hole is to help our troubled peers quit digging.
And we all have to help. 

“There’s just not going to be a pill–there’s not a magic pill that cures addiction,” said Johnson. “It’s going to be long-term involvement by families and by the community.”

It’s a long-term commitment families, communities and our state have invested upon to one day hopefully put an end the opioid epidemic. 

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