What Does Drug Use Cost Society?

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Drug and alcohol abuse cost society billions each year. The estimated cost of drug abuse in the United States currently exceeds $740 billion annually and continues to grow. To put such a staggering number into context, that is the equivalent of 435 duplicates of the Space Shuttle Endeavour orbiter, 1200 Air Force One jets, or approximately five times the net worth of Amazon founder Steve Bezos. Substance abuse in the United States adversely affects society due to increased healthcare costs, crime, loss of life, and lost productivity.

Costs by Drug Type

When people hear the words “drug use,” they commonly think of illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or prescription medications such as OxyContin. These are not the only substances that impact society through their use and misuse. Alcohol and tobacco products also contribute to the societal cost.

Tobacco Products

According to a recent report by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately one-fourth of the United States population uses tobacco products. Also, tobacco use rates are significantly higher among specific populations, such as those with mental health disorders, which account for forty percent of the cigarettes smoked in the United States.

Smoking is directly responsible for significant loss of life, resulting in almost half a million deaths annually. Tobacco use and its effects result in an economic cost of approximately $300 billion annually. Direct medical costs, loss of productivity, untimely death, and medical expenses related to second-hand smoke exposure also contribute to the overall economic cost.

Alcohol Products

In 2015, over 66 million people reported at least one episode of binge drinking in the last month. Alcohol-related costs nearly exceed those of illicit drug abuse and prescription drug abuse combined. The medical and legal implications of binge drinking cost society an estimated $249 billion annually. The majority of this cost is attributed to lost productivity at work; however, legal expenses, medical expenses, and healthcare expenses (resulting from alcohol-related accidents) are also significant contributors.

Illicit Drug Abuse

The most apparent effects of drug abuse occur in the addicted individual. These can include poor health, sickness, and death. Other concerns involve contracting illnesses due to injected drug use. But drug abuse does not affect the individual alone. It can also affect their families, friends, employers, and take a toll on government and medical resources. The estimated cost to society of illegal drug use nears $200 billion annually.

The cost of illicit drug use extends to community organizations such as law enforcement, and those organizations pegged to take care of hazardous material cleanup as would be necessary for methamphetamine labs. Illicit drugs include heroin, fentanyl (a synthetic drug said to be fifty to one-hundred times more potent than morphine), methamphetamine, cocaine, and other nonprescription “street drugs” such as MDMA and ecstasy. Not so long ago, many in the United States had never heard of fentanyl until a string of high-profile celebrity deaths occurred, including the loss of superstars such as Michael Jackson and Prince. When Prince died in 2016, the medical report showed fatal levels of fentanyl in his blood.

Prescription Drug Abuse

In 2018, data from the National Institute on drug abuse showed that 128 people die in the United States every day after overdosing on Prescription drugs. The overwhelming increase in opioid use in the United States has caused government regulatory agencies to declare opioids as an epidemic problem. While a lot of finger-pointing goes on regarding who holds responsibility for the opioid epidemic – medical providers or pharmaceutical companies -addiction rates and loss of life continued to rise. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the economic cost to society of opioid misuse in the United States to be $78.5 billion annually.

Other Costs to Society

The cost to society of drug and alcohol abuse does not stop at dollar figures alone. Although significant financial impacts occur and have an adverse effect on employers, government resources, insurance providers, and healthcare providers, the cost goes far beyond financial implications.

The prevalence of illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C has increased in conjunction with the increased use of injected drugs such as heroin. Also, the rate of death from overdose has increased year over year for the past decade. This comes as drug use becomes more frequent and as synthetic drugs such as fentanyl reach the market and are used without a clear understanding of their strength and potentially fatal consequences.

Certain drugs, such as opioids, have a significant effect on unborn children. Women who use these drugs during pregnancy often unwittingly pass the effects onto their child, who at birth may struggle with opioid withdrawal symptoms or NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome).

Crime rates also increase as a result of chronic drug use and abuse. Instances of domestic violence, drunk driving, burglary, and assaults statistically rise along with the rate of substance abuse. Other financial difficulties stem from chronic drug use, including unemployment, loss of housing, and other financial problems.

Finally, employers experience the second-hand struggles associated with chronic drug abuse. Employees who have addiction disorders often have increased absence rates, medical difficulties, and other costs related to their illness. Increased absences result in loss of productivity and loss of income for the business. It is estimated that lost workplace productivity cost companies more than $120 billion each year. This figure includes not only absenteeism but also hospitalization, incarceration, premature death, and attending residential treatment programs away from work at a substance abuse treatment center like The Hills in Los Angeles, CA.

Impacts on Crime and Criminal Justice Programs

As the incidences of drug use and addiction rise, so do the costs attributed to drug-related crime in the United States. Current estimates indicate the annual cost of such crime exceeds $61 billion, with costs directly associated with the criminal justice system accounting for $56 billion. Specific drugs such as crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin are significant factors in the increased commission of property crimes.

In addition to direct legal costs related to arrests and incarceration, drug abuse produces costs associated with driving under the influence of drugs, parental neglect, and inadvertent exposure to methamphetamine labs by law enforcement personnel. A recent National Survey on Drug Abuse showed nearly 21 million people over the age of 16 drove after drinking alcohol in 2016, and almost 12 million drove after taking illicit drugs.

Impact on Health and Healthcare Systems

Substance abuse can have systemic short and long term effects on the human body. The severity of these effects depends on the specific drug or drugs used, how they are taken, frequency and quantity of use, and other factors. Short-term effects can range from alterations in appetite, sleep disturbances, blood pressure, heart rate, changes, and mood changes. Short-term drug use can also result in more detrimental effects such as heart attack, stroke, overdose, and death. Any of these effects and others can occur after just one use.

Long term effects can include heart and lung disease, cancer, mental illness, and others. Addiction is also a consequence of long term (and sometimes short-term) drug or alcohol abuse. It is estimated that drug-related health care costs in the United States exceed $11 billion annually. This figure, thought to be lower than the accurate estimate, includes direct and indirect costs related to inpatient drug treatment, emergency services, prevention, treatment research, and other medical interventions. The annual cost of visits to the emergency room alone exceeds $160 million.

Effects on Home and Family

The financial cost to society resulting from drug abuse and addiction is indeed staggering. However, the effects of addiction closer to home are equally, if not more detrimental. One does not have to look too far to find a story of addiction. The effects of drug abuse are pervasive and impact all family unit members from parents and siblings, to spouses, and children. One common thread to these stories focuses on the cost of addiction treatment, and how difficult treatment often is to access. Online accounts such as that of Kim and Tim Blake, who spent more than $100,000 on substance abuse treatment for their son yet in the end, lost him to overdose or Michael Cote, who watched his daughter suffer through a decade of therapy costing more than $200,000 before finding recovery.

Despite the passing of legislation that mandates insurance companies cover drug and alcohol treatment, as of 2018, it was estimated that over 300,000 people in the United States needed addiction treatment but couldn’t get it because they didn’t have health coverage and couldn’t afford the costs. Difficulties relating to in-network and out of network health care coverage or only partial coverage often lead to a financial impossibility for families when seeking substance abuse treatment. Sometimes, families have relocated to another state to find affordable substance abuse treatment. Individuals may have to spend time far from home to enroll in a substance abuse program they can afford treatment.

In addition to costs related to addiction treatment, the unfortunate existence of stigma remains an impenetrable barrier for many. In some states, money is not the problem, but notions that addiction is a moral issue or people with addiction don’t deserve public assistance are root problems. Fortunately, the belief that addiction is a moral failure and other long-standing addiction-related stigma is beginning to wane; But not fast enough. To make progress in reducing addiction and its associated cost to society, we must also continue to make efforts to reduce barriers to treatment.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, don’t wait to seek treatment. Time and again, research has shown that early intervention and the application of an evidence-based treatment program are pivotal in achieving sobriety an ongoing recovery. At the Hills, we understand the decision to seek treatment can be difficult. Be it concerns about finances, your family, or how others will perceive your absence, seeking treatment can bring about many concerns. Allow the staff at the Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles CA alleviate these concerns and walk you through our treatment programs. With proper treatment and early intervention, sobriety is possible.

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