Objectives: The drug overdose crisis with shifting patterns from primarily opioid to polysubstance uses and COVID-19 infections are 2 concurrent public health crises in the United States, affecting the population of sizes in different magnitudes (approximately < 10 million for substance use disorder [SUD] and drug overdoses vs 80 million for COVID-19 within 2 years of the pandemic). Our objective is to compare the relative scale of disease burden for the 2 crises within a common framework, which could help inform policy makers with resource allocation and prioritization strategies. Methods: We calculated disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) for SUD (including opioids and stimulants) and COVID-19 infections, respectively. We collected estimates for SUD prevalence, overdose deaths, COVID-19 cases and deaths, disability weights, and life expectancy from multiple publicly available sources. We then compared age distributions of estimated DALYs. Results: We estimated a total burden of 13.83 million DALYs for SUD and drug overdoses and 15.03 million DALYs for COVID-19 in 2 years since March 2020. COVID-19 burden was dominated by the fatal burden (> 95% of total DALYs), whereas SUD burden was attributed to both fatal (53%) and nonfatal burdens (47%). The highest disease burden was among individuals aged 30 to 39 years for SUD (27%) and 50 to 64 years for COVID-19 (31%). Conclusions: Despite the smaller size of the affected population, SUD and drug overdoses resulted in comparable disease burden with the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional resources supporting evidence-based interventions in prevention and treatment may be warranted to ameliorate SUD and drug overdoses during both the pandemic and postpandemic recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)796-801
Number of pages6
JournalValue in Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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