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The Economics of Opioids


Group of white pills on a white background.

Written by Brittany Murray

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Paul Speaker, finance professor in the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, has explored the opioid epidemic’s impact on the economy and forensic crime laboratories.

“It’s very dramatic the effect that it has,” Speaker said. “It’s not just the direct drug-related things like drug chemistry, anti-mortem toxicology, post-mortem — those are pretty obvious ones to look at — but the hidden costs that I was trying to focus on are what has it done to everything else in the labs.” 

Chart of costs related to the opioid epidemic that says "Economic costs: $504 billion. Cost on the criminal justice system: $8 billion. Cost on Forensic Labs: $270 million. Average turnaround on lab request in W.VA.: 270 days. 13 states in crisis."

Part of those hidden costs is the detrimental effect that other forensic cases experience due to opioid cases clogging up the system, creating delays in tests needed for criminal investigations. 

Speaker hopes the research is making a difference. 

“You see this dramatic change in their turnaround times because it’s sucking the resources out,” said Speaker, who’s worked with crime labs from the West Virginia State Police to the European Union. “The work we’re doing is helping laboratories understand how to manage themselves and use data. Labs from across the world are providing their data, and we are taking our skills in the Chambers College to say, ‘We can apply these very good business skills to the metrics that you have.’” 

“When you look at this crisis from an economic perspective, you realize that the money that is being spent on this epidemic could be spent on education or programs for seniors or children, or roads and bridges, or other needs by these crime labs. We have to find a way to address this problem, and the research we have can help do just that.” 

*Numbers provided by Speaker and 2017 White House report “The Underestimated Cost of the Opioid Crisis.”