MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - According to West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the state’s economy has improved significantly in the past two years, but experts say its biggest inhibitor is the opioid crisis.
It’s estimated that the crisis has caused a nearly $1 billion void in the economy. That hefty price tag factors in loss of life, loss of jobs and resources required to fight the epidemic.
“They really represent a crisis that keeps holding West Virginia back from really achieving its full economic potential,” said John Deskins, director of WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
West Virginia leads the country in terms of the devastation of the opioid epidemic.
36 overdose deaths per 100,000 people were recorded in 2015. That translates to foregoing more than $190 million in economic output and a loss of nearly 5,000 jobs, not all of which come from deaths.
“Some people are working, but they’re less productive per hour,” Deskins explained. “Some people are working fewer hours and some people who are living, but who are addicted to opioids just don’t work at all.”
West Virginia is ranked 51st in labor force participation, meaning it is last in terms of share of population working or actively looking for work
The second part of that $1 billion deficit comes from the need for extra resources, like the costs of substance abuse treatment, law enforcement, correctional facilities and more.
“The fact of the matter is because of the severity of the opioid crisis we have a lot of people in criminal justice, in public health and other parts of our economy, their whole time has to be devoted to combating the opioid crisis,” said Deskins. “If we could solve the opioid crisis those workers could be freed up to tackle other challenges that we face in West Virginia.”
Deskins also said poor educational and health outcomes, combined with the opioid epidemic are the biggest challenges to the state’s economy.
“If we could help people break this addiction with opioids then we could realize much much higher levels of economic prosperity and West Virginia could come much closer to the national average in terms of income and other economic outcome measures,” he said.
Deskins added that all of these figures are based on national averages that were applied to West Virginia.
“It would be nice to get some more precisely tailored estimates where we have those costs that are specifically derived from West Virginia data,” he continued.