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By Carson Goff

December 3, 2020

On November 13th, 1789, Ben Franklin, wrote a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy saying, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Ben Franklin’s words certainly still hold true today. However, in this article, I plan to draw attention to a crisis that requires major action and change to prevent premature death, and, unfortunately, I will also draw the necessary correlation to the almighty dollar and tax revenue.

While preparing to write this article it has been difficult to find words or examples to put the year 2020 into perspective while bringing up yet another heart-wrenching topic. There is no doubt that this year will always be remembered for a time of uncertainty. This moment in our country’s history will leave an indelible mark on all generations, hopefully, many positive changes will take effect but there is no doubt some will have negative memories. Specifically, the pandemic has been devastating on so many levels, and racial injustice (and the following riots) have been tragic. These events have shaken up the United States and have forced individuals to ask themselves very difficult questions about their personal health and safety and the health and safety of their loved ones. What’s worse? We have other life-altering healthcare crises that continue to persist. The opioid crisis was already serious, but it has intensified during the pandemic.

Recently, my colleague, Lauren VenDenBoom, brought it to my attention that Monday, August 31st was International Overdose Awareness day. She wrote a blog post articulating the harsh truth that 128 people die every day from an opioid overdose!! She cited many other staggering and sobering facts here: https://www.hc1.com/blog/lets-not-forget-the-other-epidemic-opioid-overdose/.

My CEO, Brad Bostic, also sent me an article on Sunday evening that argues how the opioid crisis is “a unique product” of US health care. In the article written by Alexis Keenan and Adriana Belmonte of Yahoo Finance, they reported that “U.S. states are claiming that opioid manufacturers, distributors, and others who fueled the country’s decades-long opioid crisis will cost the economy at least $2.15 trillion by the year 2040. Between 2007 and 2019, the states estimated that their systems took a $630 billion hit. Anticipated costs of $1.53 trillion from 2020 to 2040 are estimated to run up the rest of the tab. The figure was reported in a filing made public Monday in the Southern District of New York in the bankruptcy case for OxyContin maker Purdue Pharmaceutical.” You can access the entire article here: https://news.yahoo.com/opioid-crisis-health-care-system-165837992.html

opioid crisis

+ The picture above is of Cataldo Ambulance medics and other first responders reviving a 32-year-old man who was found unresponsive and not breathing after an opioid overdose on a sidewalk in Everett, Massachusetts. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

$2.15 trillion dollars is as shocking of a number as I can imagine being linked to the opioid crisis. Do I even have to start contextualizing how big a number that is when it starts with the letter “t”? I have spent my career in some sort of sales capacity which typically requires me to create cost-benefit analysis or return on investment calculations. Those analyses have provided justification for the various organizations I engage that are evaluating an investment in software solutions. It made me think, do we really need to cost-justify lives being lost? I hope not but change is often slow unless we create the necessary urgency to gain attention and priority. Thus, the cost of the loss of lives is unfathomable when you look at it from a tax revenue perspective, but much more importantly, the loss of life means that a mom or dad, son or daughter, brother or sister are no longer with us because of an opioid overdose. Is there anything more precious or urgent than the value of a life?

The best news is that these premature deaths are preventable! Many new innovations have spawned to put real-time insights into the hands of prescribing providers that detail what is in the patient’s body (lab tests) and what should be in their body (prescription drug monitoring program). Timely insights and #clinicaldecisionsupport will help providers make better opioid prescribing decisions. That gives me optimism that as we continue through this tumultuous year, we can make a difference by delivering the appropriate interventions to improve opioid prescribing while better informing clinical practice. These innovations will identify and protect at-risk patients and can make a dramatic and positive difference in outcomes!

I have asked a number of questions in this article and I will reiterate two important questions we need an answer to…. how many premature deaths, or in the more unfortunate view, how much tax revenue has to be lost for our federal and state legislators to start enforcing more stringent policies and procedures when it comes to the distribution of opioids? Ben Franklin may have been right about death and taxes, but people pay taxes and taxes help pay for critical services that can be used to prevent the tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths we continue to see each year by the opioid crisis.

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