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Report estimates economic impact of Colorado’s fentanyl deaths at $16B annually

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(The Center Square) – Approximately three people die each day in Colorado from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids and the economic impact of overdoses increased tenfold during the last six years, according to a new study.

“Colorado’s Fentanyl Problem and the Economic Costs,” was published by the Common Sense Institute on Thursday and examines the human and economic toll of the drug and overdoses.

“The magnitude of this issue is staggering,” Mitch Morrissey, a criminal justice fellow with the organization, said in a statement.

The estimated economic impact of drug overdoses increased from $1.3 billion in 2017 to $16 billion in 2023, according to the report. It noted more than 150 people throughout the nation die from overdoses related to synthetic opioids. Fentanyl alone was blamed for 72.3% of all opioid overdose costs.

“Everyone has a family member, neighbor or friend who has been impacted,” Morrissey said. “The cost in dollars, $16 billion, is outweighed by the human toll.”

As reference points, the state of Colorado collected $15.9 billion in state taxes in 2019 and the $16 billion is equivalent to 3% of Colorado’s gross domestic product.

The report used methodology from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention developed in 2017.

“The CDC used a case count of 578 fatal opioid overdoses, a per death cost of $11.5 million,” according to the report.

The Common Sense Institute used the same approach for estimating the cost per death and total costs from 2018 to 2023. The death cost was inflated by using the “Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index” with energy and food excluded. The organization raised the cost per death from $11.5 million to $16.1 million. It estimated the value of lost productivity from an opioid overdose death to be $2 million and the value of a statistical lost life to be $14.1 million.

“In the percentage of people who are dying from fentanyl and opioids, we don’t know of the quality of their ability to be productive,” Steven Byers, a senior economist for the Common Sense Institute, said in an interview with The Center Square. “We make an assumption the value of a statistical life is the same for everybody. … In essence, these numbers are kind of an upper limit.”

The Rocky Mountain Field division of the Drug Enforcement Administration seized a record 425.6 kilograms of fentanyl last year, enough to kill every Coloradan 36 times, according to the report. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation reported its narcotic seizures increased 104% last year from 3,367 in 2022 to 7,434.

The report highlighted House Bill 22-1326, the Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention Act, which increased penalties for possessing and distributing the drug and provides funding for treatment and education programs. It also stated the legislature didn’t pass laws this year to deter illegal fentanyl users, producers or distributors.

“Despite the increasing death toll from fentanyl, there was scant legislative action in 2024 addressing the problem,” according to the report. “Legislators introduced HB24-1306 in 2024 – Concerning an increase in the criminal penalty associated with possession of synthetic opiates.”

The report concludes Colorado’s public safety competitiveness “is middling” compared to other states and the District of Columbia.

“Drug overdose deaths are a component of public safety and the increasing problems surrounding fentanyl are contributing to the decline in Colorado’s public safety,” according to the report. “To encourage the migration and longevity of residents and businesses, leaders should strive to put Colorado among the nation’s best with regards to responsiveness to a critical nationwide public health issue.”

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