The opioid crisis started because some doctors didn’t realize how addictive opioid-based painkillers were when prescribing them. Today, physicians understand the dangers and prescribe these medications in very limited amounts, but there are still millions of people suffering from addiction to prescription-strength painkillers. As a result, the United States and its territories have spent $630 billion since 2007 on combating the opioid epidemic. These costs are continuing to rise. By 2040, those costs are expected to come to more than $2 trillion.


The concern over the opioid epidemic has been reignited recently as Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy is more fallout from an epidemic that has claimed more than 500,000 lives in opioid overdoses. The estimated $2 trillion doesn’t just include the costs of providing addicts with treatment for overdoses. It also includes the costs associated with addiction rehab and medical care for state government employees with an opioid addiction. Additionally, the estimate consists of costs for caring for addicted Medicare recipients, family court costs where opioid addiction plays a role in custody battles, and addiction prevention programs.


In determining this estimate, researchers looked at the opioid epidemic as a whole without singling out the role Purdue Pharma played. While OxyContin was a popular opioid-based painkiller, it wasn’t the only one on the market. The government sought an estimate that took opioid addiction from all causes into account.


Although based in Connecticut, Purdue has been facing lawsuits filed by multiple state attorneys. Previously, the company settled lawsuits filed by Oklahoma and Kentucky. They have yet to settle thousands of similar lawsuits with plaintiffs from all over the country seeking damages for Purdue’s role in causing the opioid epidemic. It’s estimated that the lawsuits, which have primarily been filed by individuals, total more than 142,000. In addition to those claims, other pharmaceutical companies are facing similar lawsuits.


Purdue is hoping each state will accept their proposal to allow them to become a public trust. This would mean the company’s profits would be applied to the $2 trillion costs of combating opioid addiction. An additional term of the settlement requires that the Sackler family, which owns Purdue, must relinquish their shares. They would also have to donate a minimum of $3 billion towards battling the opioid crisis.


In addition to painkillers, such as OxyContin, illegally made drugs, including heroin and fentanyl, also contribute to the opioid epidemic. While Purdue’s proposal would help combat opioid addiction, it may not be accepted by all states. In that case, Purdue may still be facing civil lawsuits over its role in the epidemic.