Opioid crisis costs Washington state billions of dollars


SPOKANE, Wash. -It's a battle the United States has been dealing with for years. That's the battle of opioid addiction. Addiction doesn't care who you are or what town you come from, it impacts everyone.

Small town America is taking the biggest hit when it comes to the opioid crisis. Ask Dr. David Tauben, Chief of Pain Medicine at the University of Washington.

"There's been a flood of opioid prescriptions. That has translated into a flood of illegal non-prescribed opioids and combined, a devastating impact on communities. Urban, of course. but even more remarkably so, rural communities."

The first warning signs came out of Washington state in 2007 when doctors wrote the first guidelines on opioid prescribing and that it was a problem. But the rules did little to stem the tide - because it left one lethal loophole - how many pills would be appropriate to prescribe. 

"If you look at the number of prescriptions of opioids given for any surgery, we give far too many. There's so many out there it's called 'a reservoir of opioids.' It turns out people take 3 or 4 pills and give them 50 or 100," said Dr. Tauben.

As the left-over, highly addictive, pills leaked out into the community, the death toll surged.

From 2012-2016 the total economic cost of opioid-related fatalities in Washington was over $34 billion. With Spokane County's death rate one of the highest in the state of Washington, at 8.8 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2016 alone it cost the state of Washington $9 billion in fatalities, health care spending, addiction treatment, criminal justice, and lost productivity.

Now counties across the United States are joining forces and are suing manufacturers and wholesalers of prescription opioid painkillers. In 2016 alone, 64 people died in Spokane County because of an opioid overdoses. The proposed legislation would reauthorize grants to states and Native American tribes for opioid-related prevention, treatment, and response.

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