According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, every one percentage point increase in unemployment leads to a 3.5 percent increase in opioid addiction.
With unemployment now at levels unseen since the Great Depression, businesses shuttered and millions of New Yorkers in an extended lockdown, the conditions are in place for an influx of people needing substance use disorders prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services. These services are vital for communities to prevent and adequately address further increases in alcohol use, the continued spiking in the number of overdoses and overdose deaths and the danger of a relapse for people in recovery.
With a ballooning multi-billion-dollar budget deficit, our leaders are on the hunt for cost savings and efficiencies. They should look no further. Addiction prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery programs have proven their ability to save millions by reducing costs associated with unnecessary hospitalizations, arrests and incarceration, homelessness, domestic violence, unemployment and more.
A recent report from the Society of Actuaries shows the unbelievably high costs nationally (more than $660 billion) of the opioid epidemic on the private sector and government, demonstrating the incredible societal costs of this epidemic that go well beyond expenditures for substance use disorder interventions.
A recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute found that the economic impact of the opioid epidemic on Long Island was a staggering $8.2 billion. The state Department of Health found that about 60 percent of the total cost of care for Medicaid beneficiaries in the state is spent on individuals with an untreated substance use or mental health disorder.
Investing in the community-based substance use and mental health disorder service delivery system will help individuals access life-saving services, improve health outcomes and drive down significant costs for New York state during this uncertain time. The dialogue in Albany, cuts to cost-saving services, sounds a lot like stepping over dollars to find pennies.
The writer is a PAX Partner at the Pivot Foundation.