According to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, about 275 million or 5.6% of the population has done drugs. Of these, 450,000 have died, with about 167,000 of them succumbing to drug use disorders, mainly overdoses.
While all companies have their share of drug addicts, the United States has a bigger problem than most. For the first time in half a century, the country has suffered a decline in life expectancy because of unintentional injuries, mostly overdose deaths. In 2016, about 23,000 Americans died in 2016 – a 21% increase compared to the last year. Apart from decimating the population, drug addiction has taken a huge financial toll on the world’s richest country.
How Much Does Drug Addiction Cost America?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), illicit drug abuse costs the country $11 billion annually on healthcare costs. Adding lost work productivity and the cost of related crime, illicit drugs cost the country a total of $193 billion.
As for prescription opioid abuse, the cost to the US healthcare system is a staggering $26 billion. Overall, it costs the country $78.5 billion in lost productivity and opioid-related crimes. In 2016 alone, it caused the deaths of 17,087 people.
Apart from prescription opioids, abuse of synthetic opioids, primarily Fentanyl, has been on the rise. In another report by NIDA, 50% or 19,413 of opioid-related deaths were caused by this drug group. It had trumped the former forerunner, prescription opioids, by more than 2,000 deaths.
The Societal Costs Of Substance Abuse
More than just costing the US government billions of dollars yearly, drug abuse takes a toll on society as well.
Treatment for drug-related diseases and outcomes costs the American government billions of dollars. Different drugs can lead to different afflictions.
Methamphetamine, for one, can cause a dental problem known as ‘Meth mouth’. Inhalants, on the other hand, can damage the brain and the peripheral nervous system. Opioids, as established, are well-known for causing overdoses and deaths.
Add to that, drug addiction can increase a person’s chances of catching other diseases. For example, those who share needles are more likely to contract HIV and Hepatitis C. This can also lead to bacteria entering the body and causing skin infections and/or heart problems.
2. Premature Death
As mentioned, US life expectancy decreased due to premature deaths caused by overdoses. In 2018 alone, drug-involved overdose took the lives of 67,300 Americans. Unfortunately, deaths due to synthetic opioids (fentanyl and its analogs), cocaine, and methamphetamine continue to trend upward.
Overdose, which is a form of unintentional injury, is the leading cause of death in Americans aged 1 to 44. The trend continues to increase, and now it trumps motor vehicular accidents, which was the leading cause of unintentional deaths up until 2010/
As for state statistics, the most number of opioid-related deaths (including heroin and methadone) come from West Virginia. Here, opioid-related deaths account for 42.4 mortalities for every 100,000 people. One reason for this may be the state’s high prescription rate of 69.3 in 100 persons.
The other states with the most number of opioid-related deaths are Maryland (33.7), New Hampshire (33.1), Ohio (29.6), and Massachusetts (29.3).
Some of the lowest death rates come from some of the US’ biggest states, such as California (5.8) and Texas (4.8). Other states that have posted relatively low opioid deaths are Iowa (4.8) and Hawaii (4.1).
3. Lost Productivity
The US loses about $120 billion every year due to lost productivity. Income is lost due to sick time. For one, full-time employed drug users were more likely to be missing from work for two to three days a month. Add to that, about 13% of drug users are unemployed.
Billions of dollars are also lost as millions of users need to skip work to participate in treatment. In some cases, this lost productivity is brought about by the addict’s incarceration or premature death.
Drug addicts, more often than not, are involved in ‘crime careers’. Instead of getting legitimate employment, these people often turn to drug trafficking, theft, and prostitution, to name a few. The productivity lost to these activities is estimated to cost $19.2 billion.
The high cost of drug addiction does not only affect the government but its citizens as well. After all, these taxpayers bear the brunt of such expenditures. This can be seen in the following scenarios:
- Higher costs of products and services
- More expensive health premiums for employees and employers alike
- Higher taxes that may be used for the healthcare, law enforcement, and incarceration of drug users
Substance Abuse Treatment: The Key To Lower Drug-Related Financial Burden
Substance abuse costs the US government $600 billion annually. Unfortunately, only 6% of this is dedicated to treatment costs. Half of this amount, however, is spent on criminal justice and incarceration.
That being said, experts campaign for drug treatment programs as they are far worth the cost. After all, treatment can dramatically reduce the healthcare and social burden of the disease.
To compare, a year’s worth of methadone treatment will only cost the government $4,700 annually, compared to incarceration costs that average at $24,000 a year per person.
That being said, every $1 invested in drug treatment yields a return of $4-$7 since it can lead to reduced crime and criminal justice costs.
What Needs To Be Done
Apart from promoting early treatment, the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute recommends the following measures:
1. Discouraging Children From Using
The younger the person starts using drugs, the more likely he/she is to develop a substance problem. And since he/she uses drugs for a longer time, he/she is more likely to develop a fatal illness or succumb to an overdose. As such, it’s important to dissuade these young people through social marketing and teaching about the risks of drug addiction.
2. Limiting Access To Drugs
It is important to limit access to opioids, especially prescription drugs. An example is to prescribe lower-class levels of pain relievers before jumping into addictive drugs such as oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, and codeine, to name a few.
Drug abuse comes at a huge economic cost not only to the US but to the rest of the world. As such, it’s important to focus on discouraging use, accessing limit, and treating afflicted individuals. After all, these can help stem the high economic and societal costs of drug abuse.
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