By Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, June 14, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Heroin use cost the United States more than $51 billion in 2015, a new study shows.
The financial toll includes heroin-related crime and imprisonment. It also includes treatment for addiction as well as chronic infectious diseases contracted through heroin abuse (such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and tuberculosis), according to researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The total also includes the cost of treating newborns with heroin-related medical conditions; lost productivity on the job and overdose deaths, the researchers said.
"The opioid crisis didn't happen overnight," said study co-author Ruixuan Jiang, a pharmacoeconomist at UIC. In a university news release, she said the number of U.S. heroin users doubled from 2000 to 2013.
Study co-author Simon Pickard, a professor of pharmacy systems, has been tracking the rise in heroin use for years, noting that users often start after becoming dependent on prescription opioid painkillers. People turn to heroin because it's cheaper and easier to get than painkiller prescriptions, he said.
On average, each heroin user costs society nearly $51,000 a year. An estimated 1 million people in the United States are active heroin users, the study authors said.
The cost per user is much higher than for people with chronic illnesses. In 2015 dollars, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, for example, costs society $2,567 per patient, or $38.5 billion for 15 million patients; and diabetes, $11,148 per patient, or $248.6 billion for 22 million patients.
The study was published recently in the journal PLOS One.
Heroin use in the United States is at the highest level in 20 years, according to the World Drug Report 2016 from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Deaths due to heroin overdoses have more than quadrupled since 2010. From 2014 to 2015 alone, heroin overdose deaths surged about 21 percent, with nearly 13,000 deaths in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.