(WJBK) - The opioid epidemic is becoming one of the biggest issues plaguing Americans. Heroin abuse drains almost $80 billion a year from the U.S. economy. The costs start showing up as lost tax revenue as productivity among addicts drops.
Addicts inevitably make their way into the healthcare system, either through emergency room visits or substance abuse treatments. That has an annual price tag of about $28 billion. And then there's the impact on the criminal justice system. Nearly $8 billion dollars a year is spent on prosecuting and incarcerating addicts and dealers.
"It's a huge deal. From the DEA's perspective, it's the number one drug threat facing the country," says Drug Enforcement Administration's assistant administrator Louis Milione. He says there are 580 new heroin users a day, and 80 percent of them started by using or misusing prescription painkillers.
"What we have over a long period of time, is we have people using prescription opioids; doctors over-prescribing them; people becoming addicted; getting on the circle of addiction. What happens now, we see on the other part of the DEA, we see Mexican cartels exploiting that prescription opiod epidemic and flooding the country with high purity, low-cost heroin now dangerously laced with fentanyl."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that's 50 times stronger than heroin. Most of it is made in China. Just two miligrams is enough to kill you.
"Two milligrams of fentnyl, which is, let's say, a pinch of salt, is a potentially lethal dose," Milione says.
On Monday, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that will impose an additional 10 years in prison for anyone convicted of supplying fentanyl. The measure was prompted after the number of fentanyl-related deaths in the state jumped a staggering 284 percent in the last year.
"We have thrown everything we can at it. We're trying everything we can; we put money into it and the problem continues to grow," says Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
The problem isn't going away anytime soon. During a 15-year span, Michigan has seen 10 times as many overdose deaths. That's a 911 percent since 1999.
Many police agencies have recently began offering the Hope Not Handcuffs program, which offers treatment to any addict who walks into the police station asking for help.
While the program was designed to combat heroin addiction, addicts struggling with other drugs can also participate. The program is sponsored through Families Against Narcotics.