What Are the Costs of Drug Abuse to Society?

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Drug Use Costs Soar in the U.S. © Getty Images

Question: What Are the Costs of Drug Abuse to Society?

Answer: The estimated cost of drug abuse in the United States - including illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco - is more than $768 billion a year. Substance abuse in the U.S. costs society in increased health care costs, crime, and lost productivity.

The costs related to each type of drug include:

  • Tobacco: $326 Billion
    Total economic cost of smoking annually includes nearly $170 billion in direct medical costs for adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity due to premature death and exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Alcohol Abuse: $249 Billion
    Binge drinking accounts for $191 billion of the total cost to society for excessive alcohol consumption. The taxpayers foot the bill for more than $100 billion of those costs.
  • Illegal Drug Abuse: $193 Billion
    The Department of Justice says the economic costs of illicit drug use in the United States is comparable to the costs of diabetes, which a 2008 government study said cost more than $174 billion each year.

The total costs to society for substance abuse goes beyond the financial costs, other costs include:

Impact on Workplace Productivity

Drug abuse cost the nation more than $120 billion per year in lost productivity, according to The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). Included in that lost productivity are reduced labor participation, incarceration, premature mortality, hospitalization and participation in treatment programs away from work.

According to NDIC estimates, drug abuse accounts for:

  • $49 billion in reduced work days
  • $48 billion in incarceration expenses
  • $4 billion due to premature deaths

Impact on Crime and Criminal Justice Systems

The NDIC estimates that the annual cost of drug-related crime in the United States is more than $61 billion with criminal justice system cost making up $56 billion of that cost.

Crack cocaine and methamphetamine are the drugs that most often contribute to the commission of crimes in the U.S., according to the National Drug Threat Survey. Heroin use is a significant factor in the commission of property crimes.

More than 60% of all arrestees test positive for illicit substances at the time of their arrest, according to the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM II) which monitors arrestees in 10 cities across the U.S.

Many arrestees test positive for more than one drug in their system when arrested.

Impact on Health and Healthcare Systems

Annual drug-related healthcare cost in the U.S. is more than $11 billion, the NDIC reports. That figure includes both direct and indirect costs related to:

  • Medical intervention, including emergency services
  • Inpatient drug treatment
  • Prevention and treatment research

Approximately 2 million emergency department visits in the U.S. each year are due to drug misuse or abuse and half of those involve illicit drug abuse, according to the Drug abuse Warning Network (DAWN).

The NDIC estimates that the annual costs of emergency department visits related to drug abuse are $161 million, with an addition $5.5 million in costs for those who have to be hospitalized.

Drugged Driving, Toxic Meth Labs

On top of direct healthcare costs, drug abuse produces costs associated with driving under the influence of drugs, parental neglect, and exposure to toxic methamphetamine labs.

While the number of drivers, passengers, or occupants killed in vehicular crashes has declined in recent years, the number of driver fatalities involving both legal and illicit drugs has increased, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Clandestine methamphetamine labs have produced a growing number of law enforcement and first responder personnel being exposed to toxic chemicals, fires, and explosions.

Children who live in homes where there are meth labs are also at great risk for negative health consequences, according to National Seizure System (NSS) reports.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Smoking & Tobacco Use." Fast Facts Updated 14 February 2014

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Excessive Drinking Costs U.S. $223.5 Billion." CDC Features. Updated 17 October 2013.

National Drug Intelligence Center. "National Drug Threat Assessment 2011." U.S. Department of Justice August 2011

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Frequently Asked Questions." The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction Accessed Feb. 2014.

U.S. Department of Justice. "The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society." National Drug Intelligence Center 15 April 2003

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