For Immediate Release: March 18, 2021
Contact: Renee Alves, 559-916-5939
Charleston, WV – For at least the last decade, West Virginia has been at the forefront of the overdose epidemic in the United States. Since 2010, its death rate per 100,000 by overdose of any type of drug has led the nation. Our new report released today both shows the heavy economic toll the overdose crisis has on the state of West Virginia as a whole and shines a spotlight on Kanawha County, the county with the highest number of overdose deaths in the state. This report, Saving Lives and Saving Money: The Case for Harm Reduction in Kanawha County, WV, authored by economist Dr. Jill Kriesky and commissioned by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, reveals that the overdose crisis cost WV $11.3 billion and Kanawha County $1.7 billion in 2019 alone.
By way of comparison, the combined budgets for the Kanawha County Commission and its county seat, the City of Charleston, were approximately $157 million in Fiscal Year 2018/2019. Given this figure, this report finds that each year the addiction epidemic costs Kanawha County at least 10 times the major budgets of its two largest government bodies put together.
The report’s fatality costs are calculated using a value of statistical life (VLS) formula to approximate the economic contributions that those who fatally overdosed would have made to the economy had they lived; its non-fatal costs are calculated by estimating the dollar value of the medical, social, and law enforcement services incurred in a single year for non-fatal drug use. Again, for 2019, we estimate the total fatal and non-fatal costs for WV and Kanawha County at about $11.3 billion and $1.7 billion, respectively. These staggering amounts represent nearly 15 percent of the state and county gross domestic products.
The major portion of this study moves beyond these annual cost projections to examine the dollars spent on treating and addressing the diverse array of harms that stem from West Virginia’s current addiction crisis. These include Hepatitis B & C, HIV, endocarditis, neonatal abstinence syndrome, and the foster care crisis. For example, the cost of foster care in Kanawha County alone due to drug-related abuse and neglect in 2018 is estimated to have reached almost $40.2 million, while the long-term cost of treating the 635 Hepatitis C cases diagnosed in Kanawha County in 2019 is $44.5 million. Kanawha County’s HIV outbreak, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) call the “most concerning in the nation,” is predicted to cost $16,975,000 in lifetime treatment just for 2020’s new cases.
The report concludes with a brief overview of harm reduction programs designed to address these enormous damages and what is known about their cost-effectiveness. A key staple of harm reduction efforts frequently used nationwide, syringe services programs (SSPs), reduce HIV and Hepatitis C by approximately 50 percent, and so their associated costs. These programs also drive a reduction in overdose deaths through recovery program referrals and targeted distribution of naloxone, reducing a significant share of the crisis’ economic burdens.
“This report could not come at a more vital time,” said Kelly Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “As state and local governments debate the future of life-saving harm reduction programs, they should take note of the potential for these inexpensive services to save hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It’s both gravely immoral and disastrous fiscal policy to jeopardize these empirically proven programs in any way.”
Find the full report here.
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