What America Spends on Drug Addictions
You need only glance at the headlines or turn on the TV news to hear about the perils of drug abuse – the ravages on the body and the mind, the devastation to addicts’ families and friends. While the immediacy of health and social issues are hard to refute, we’re going to change tack here and focus on an aspect of drug addiction that should particularly resonate in our increasingly materialistic world – that of cold, hard cash.
How much money does drug addiction cost America each year? Far too much. First, we looked at the cost of the drugs themselves: What are the most prevalent drugs? How many people use? How much do they take to get high? What’s the price for a buy? And what number do you get when you multiply all that out?
Then we went further, past the cost of active spending, to examine the cost to society: What about the crime and the accidents, the health care costs, the lost productivity, the costs of treatment, and the war on drugs? How does it all factor in?
Finally, we turned reality on its head to ask a simple question: What could we buy if we solved drug addiction? Read on for the shocking report.
Americans waste $276 billion every year drinking, smoking, and taking illegal drugs. Legal drugs – alcohol and nicotine – comprise around half of that total. Smokers make up around 52% of the legal drugs total, binge drinkers (who consume six drinks over a short period, once or twice per week) comprise nearly 25%, and heavy drinkers (who consume about 21 drinks spread over a week) about 23%.
Prescription drugs – including pain relievers, tranquilizers, and stimulants – make up almost 22% of the total cost. Illegal drugs – marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and meth – account for nearly 28% of the total. (Though marijuana is legal in some forms in 23 states and D.C., we grouped it under the illegal drugs category for the purpose of this study.)
Addiction doesn’t discriminate: It affects combat veterans and youth, and it strikes budding athletes, renowned musicians and celebrities. Addiction traverses community, racial, and gender divides, inspiring personal essays penned by heartbroken parents, sparking candlelit vigils, and prompting fundraisers.
But, despite all that, drug addiction just won’t quit.
Assigning an estimated price tag to our nation’s collective cost for substance abuse–related issues – those of alcohol, illicit drug and prescription medication abuse alike – will no doubt command attention from those who may not have previously taken notice. Those dealing with it firsthand – the individuals themselves and families of those struggling with compulsive drug and alcohol use – may be the first to recount that the problems have never been a secret. To find help for yourself or a loved one in need, give us a call at 1-844-245-3413. Speak confidentially with our dedicated treatment support staff about a number of available substance abuse recovery options.
A lot can happen in a single minute. While 60 seconds tick by, you might breathe 15 times, blink 20 times, and speak 150 words – or wipe the counter, throw in a load of laundry, or drive a couple of blocks. While you do that, drug users across the country manage to spend over $525,000 combined – each minute.
Translate that into hours, and the total is a whopping $31.5 million – all spent while you watch a TV show or grab lunch. In the span of 24 hours, it turns out Americans drop nearly $757 million on drugs – all while you go about your daily routine.
How else could that kind of money be spent? One idea: If donated rather than blown on drugs, $757 million per day would go a pretty long way toward assisting the 50 million Americans who live in poverty. And for drug users themselves, this money could go a long way toward counseling, drug education, housing, and other addiction treatment-related expenses.
A trillion. The number is so staggering that many people are not even completely familiar with what a one with 12 zeroes after it represents. America is forced to fork out more than $1 trillion per year as a result of drug addiction: These numbers represent the costs of active addiction, health care, crime and accidents, and lost productivity, as well as drug treatment and the War on Drugs (an anti-drug movement founded in 1961).
Incorporating these expenditures into the mix reveals a startling snapshot: Almost 42% of associated costs stem from lost productivity. Active addictions (what we refer to as the direct cost of purchasing addictive substances) claim about 26%. About 16% of the trillion goes toward health care, while crime and accidents account for more than 9%. Another startling fact: Spending on drugs and addiction eats up the equivalent of 5.85% of America’s gross domestic product (GDP), which represents the monetary value of all finished goods and services a country produces in one year. Looked at in another way, this $1 trillion represents 17.1% of the entire amount of money spent by the U.S. government last year – federal, state, and local.
The creation of almost 20 million new teacher jobs. Free four-year college tuition for every student. Free preschool for every child. A revamped infrastructure. A $4,000 stimulus check for every American age 18 or older. These are just examples of what the U.S. could spend money on if the issue of drug addiction disappeared.
Of course, we have no magic bullet to solve addiction. But let’s face it: Like Prohibition in the 1920s, the War on Drugs hasn’t been particularly successful – and it is unsuccessful to the tune of around $41 billion per year. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world (more than one in 110 adults is in prison or jail), and during the course of a single year, 1.5 million people were arrested for nonviolent drug charges and more than 200,000 students lost federal student aid due to a drug conviction.
Since the inception of the War on Drugs, drug use has actually increased. So let’s say we just throw in the towel: If the country decriminalized drugs, what would happen? Aside from the reduction in violence, the country would reap dramatic financial benefits. For starters, the newly created tax revenue for illegal-turned-legal drugs would yield almost $47 billion per year. That money, combined with the $41 billion per year saved from ending drug prohibition, could fund countless infrastructure repairs, education programs, and social programs to benefit citizens – including multiple drug treatment centers.
The Future of Drug Addiction
The financial costs associated with drug addiction in this country are higher than ever – and they are bleeding America of its prosperity. Regardless of political or personal beliefs, most people would agree that our current approach to dealing with our national drug situation is untenable. Isn’t it time this country tries something new? Let’s hope change comes before it’s too late.
No one knows exactly how the landscape would change if the war on drugs were scrapped altogether, but it would appear that the country might benefit if it were waged differently at the very least. At $41 billion dollars a year – for a potentially losing battle – it’s feasible that some portion of this figure is misspent rather than ‘must spend’. Investing time and effort into treatment is seldom a losing proposition, however.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance addiction, get help now. The staggering costs – to your health, your loved ones, and your life – are too high too ignore. Call 1-844-245-3413 today to speak with someone who can help you get started on the path to recovery.
We studied nine drugs in order to estimate America’s spending on active addictions. Below are the sources and assumptions made. We believe that our numbers are reasonable and perhaps even conservative. But they are estimations and are subject to interpretation. We welcome your feedback.
For the average cost per drink, we used Time magazine’s average estimate of $1.80 per drink sold in most retail outlets across the United States. For binge alcohol users and heavy alcohol users, we used SAMHSA 2014 user estimates. For the purposes of this study, binge alcohol drinkers were defined as those who drank six drinks within a short period one or two days a week. Heavy alcohol drinkers were defined as those who drank an average of 21 drinks per week, spread over multiple days.
For the average cost per cigarette, we used the numbers gathered by Tobacco Free Kids, which found that the cost of a pack of cigarettes across the U.S. averaged around $6.25. This was divided by the usual 20 cigarettes per pack to determine that each cigarette costs approximately $0.31. The estimated number of smokers in the U.S. was determined using the data gathered by the CDC in 2013. According to data collected in 2012, the average adult smoker in the U.S. consumes approximately 20 cigarettes (one pack) per day.
For the average cost per milligram of the most commonly prescribed and abused painkillers in the U.S., we used a DEA document verified by an NBC affiliate’s 2015 estimate of $1/mg. This corroborated previously gathered data from Forbes as well as current crowd-sourced data for oxycodone/acetaminophen street prices. The number of estimated users was taken from the 2014 SAMHSA report. For the purpose of this study, average dosing information was gathered from the 2015 AMDG recommended dosage guidelines (we accept that recreational usage may be higher or lower than these numbers). It should also be noted that many users obtain prescription sources for free by taking them from family members’ and friends’ medicine cabinets.
For the average cost per milligram of the most commonly abused tranquilizer in the U.S., we used an average of crowd-sourced prices of 10mg diazepam/Valium pills. It should be noted that many users obtain prescription drugs for free by taking them from family members’ and friends’ medicine cabinets. Average daily dosage information was taken from NHTSA reports. It should also be noted that this dosage may vary among users, depending on frequency of use, hypersensitivity, and tolerance. The total number of users was taken from the 2014 SAMHSA report estimates.
For the purposes of this study, “stimulants” refers to commonly abused prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall, not predominantly illegal amphetamine substances – such as methamphetamine – which are covered under a separate category. Average daily dosage information was taken from Drugs.com, and determined to be 20mg per day (we accept that recreational usage may be higher or lower than these numbers). The price per milligram was determined by taking an average of crowd-sourced street prices of 10mg Adderall pills across the U.S. The number of users was taken from the 2014 SAMHSA report estimates. It should also be noted that many users obtain prescription sources for free by taking them from family members’ and friends’ medicine cabinets.
The average cost per gram of marijuana was determined by averaging the price per ounce in each U.S. state as collected by Forbes in 2015, and dividing by number of grams per ounce. An additional premium was added, as most users purchase smaller amounts (which cost more). The average number of grams per week was estimated using data gathered in the 2013 SAMHSA report. We attributed differing amounts to everyday users, 20 day a month users, and all other users, arriving at an average of 1.88 grams per week. The average number of current users in the U.S. was taken from the 2014 SAMHSA report estimates.
The number of grams consumed per day was taken from a White House study published in 2014. The monthly average expenditure per user was divided by our price per gram. This gave us an average of 14.43 grams per month, or 0.5 grams per day. This amount was corroborated by an NCBI study involving current cocaine users with reasonable tolerance levels. The listed cost per year was divided by the listed average cost per gram to determine number of grams per day. We accept that dosage may vary widely among users, with some using only weekly. The price per gram was determined using information gathered in the 2015 Global Drug Survey report. The number of current users in the U.S. was taken from the 2014 SAMHSA report estimates.
The average heroin dose per day was taken from current NHTSA reports. It should be noted that this dosage may vary among users, depending on frequency of use, hypersensitivity, and tolerance. The average price per gram was calculated using information presented by Havascope. The number of current users in the U.S. was calculated using data from the 2014 SAMHSA report estimates.
Methamphetamine dosage information was calculated using user-reported information from two differing sources. It should be noted that this dosage may vary among users, depending on frequency of use, hypersensitivity, and tolerance. Pricing information was taken from a 2012 report on The Economist and verified by a secondary source report on PBS. The number of current users in the U.S. was taken from the 2014 SAMHSA report estimates.
Sources for “What America Could Buy if it Solved Drug Addiction”
We grant permission to use the images found on this page freely. When doing so, we ask that you kindly attribute the creators by linking to Addiction-Treatment.com and this page so your readers can learn more about the project.