The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription drug abuse costs $78.5bn (£61.5bn) annually. This is due to costs related to health care, lost productivity, and criminal activity. About 91 Americans die every day after overdosing on opioids.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Widespread opioid abuse is tied to a fall in the employment rates for Americans.
"I do think it is related to a decline in labour force participation among prime-age workers," Ms Yellen said after a question from Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana. "I don't know if it's causal or if it's a symptom of long-running economic maladies." Ms Yellen also noted that the US has seen an unusual rise in its death rate. "It's obviously a very serious and heartbreaking problem," she said.
Economists have puzzled over the fall in labour force participation rates, the share of people working or looking for work. For the over-16 civilian population, they have declined from a peak of about 67% in the late 1990s to less than 63% today, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among men, the rates have fallen from about 80% in the late 1960s to less than 70% today. They have risen among women from about 42% to nearly 57% during that time.
Yellen said she believed an aging population was a major factor in the overall decline. She also said men with less education have been particularly affected by technological changes that reduce jobs in some industries.