The History of Putting a Price on Everything

The History of Putting a Price on Everything
AP Photo/Jon Elswick, File

In 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control, some 33,091 people died as a result of an opioid overdose. The final 2016 figure, there is little doubt, will be even higher. Last year, researchers at the CDC put the “societal” cost of the opioid epidemic at $78.5 billion for 2013. Some of that figure includes spending on healthcare and on criminal justice related to the trade in opioids. But much of the $78.5 billion represents something less tangible: “lost productivity.” The researchers estimated that the lost future economic output of Americans affected by the epidemic—those who were disabled by opioid dependence, who died prematurely, or were incarcerated—amounted to $41.9 billion a year. And in November, the White House made headlines by putting an even bigger price tag—$504 billion—on the opioid epidemic, by adding to this a dollar value for each life lost, the so-called “value of a statistical life.”

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