Drug Abuse and the Cost to America

Estimates of drug abuse and the cost to America vary from 193 to 500 billion dollars annually. The higher estimates are probably due to the combining cost of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and smoking. Regardless, it is clear that the cost to America from drug abuse is very high.

The total cost to America is determined by adding up costs associated with drug abuse treatment, crime, health care, and loss of productivity due to drugs. This puts the cost of drug abuse at a level comparable to other chronic and prevalent diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. Not only does drug abuse create cost to America in its own right, but it also increases the risk for a number of secondary diseases like HIV and cancer.

Beyond resulting in poor health, drug abuse is a major underlying factor in other costly social problems like homelessness, violence, motor vehicle accidents and child abuse. 31% of America’s homeless suffer from drug abuse or alcoholism. At least half of the individuals arrested for major crimes including homicide, theft, and assault were under the influence of illicit drugs around the time of their arrest. About 15% of people involved in motor vehicle accidents are under the influence of drugs, often in combination with alcohol. At least two-thirds of patients in drug abuse treatment centers say they were physically or sexually abused as children.

Most drug abuse related spending goes toward direct health care costs for cirrhosis and overdoses or for law enforcement expenses including incarceration. Only about 2% of the total cost to America is spent on prevention, treatment, and addiction research. Many say that this is a terrible allocation of funds. Spending money on prevention, treatment, and research now could potentially save billions in dollars in the future. Federal studies have shown that successful addiction treatment programs pay for themselves 12 times over, because successful patients have a quick and dramatic improvement in health and behavior.

The problem with convincing taxpayers and government officials to spend more on drug abuse and addiction prevention and treatment is that there is still a negative stigma associated with drug abuse and addiction. Although addiction has been categorized as a disease, by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are still many who believe that it is simply a lifestyle choice. Additionally, many Americans have misconceptions that drug users belong to a segment of society different from their own or that drug abuse is remote from their environment. On the contrary, nearly half of all Americans know someone with a drug abuse problem or have a drug abuse problem themselves.

Most addiction specialists agree that without prevention, treatment and research, the cost to America from drug abuse will continue to climb. Many cite the success of anti-smoking campaigns in reducing the number of smokers in America as evidence that prevention techniques are effective. Indeed, by employing education, higher taxes and restrictions on smoking zones, anti-smoking campaigns have reduced the incidence of smoking in this country by nearly half- saving billions of dollars in costs.