Financial Impact of the Opioid Crisis on Local Government: Quantifying Costs for Litigation and Policymaking


The opioids epidemic has had a significant impact on individuals and communities, including local governments responsible for serving and protecting those affected individuals. This is the first study of its kind to consider whether those local government costs are quantifiable, a question that has salience both for pending opioid litigation in federal and state courts and for local planning and budgeting decisions. This article first provides a detailed description of the opioid litigation landscape, including the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Ohio, the Native American tribes’ actions, and various procedural and other hurdles that local government plaintiffs face in seeking monetary recovery in court. The article also provides a literature review of existing studies on the financial impacts of the opioid epidemic, noting the shortcomings of those studies in regards to quantifying costs for local governments. Finally, it describes our study methodology, which involved unstructured, qualitative interviews with local government department heads and other service providers to determine the extent to which their opioid costs could be readily captured. Our findings reveal that some costs are easy to track and correlate with opioids, specifically, and we provide sample calculations for some of those; other costs are not currently tracked as opioid-specific but could be with additional effort, an effort we intend to undertake with future stages of this project; and still other costs are very hard to disaggregate or quantify, although they are very real and, often, significant. Ultimately, this article provides local governments and policymakers with observations and conclusions on how to calculate the damages governments have incurred from the opioid epidemic, as well the necessary data to make informed decisions in the future.