What Does Addiction Cost: A Big Picture Assessment

Addiction is expensive. It’s expensive to engage in as well as to treat, and the social costs are constantly growing. But how much does addiction really cost? From treatment to jail time to emergency medical expenses, addiction is becoming a financial burden on individuals and governments alike.

Financing The Drug Trade

Obviously, the first layer of costs associated with addiction are those paid directly into the drug trade; users have to get their substances of choice somewhere. But how much do Americans really spend on drugs each year?

According to a 2014 study by the Centre for Research on Globalization, the United States is the largest consumer of drugs of any country. Users spend $28 billion annually on cocaine alone, and another $81 billion  on marijuana, methamphetamines, and heroin combined. That’s a lot to pay for life-ruining substances, but this only scratches the surface of our total expenditures.

Rehab: The Best Case Scenario

Among addicts, those who get a spot in treatment are among the lucky ones, but financially they may be on the hook for the big bucks. For example, at a private facility five months of comprehensive treatment can cost $35,000 or more. Though many don’t pay for that levels of care, with treatment covered by either insurance, grant funding, or by pursuing shorter term treatment, private rehab centers provide a sense of just how costly addiction can be.

The Cost Of Jail Time

A great many addicts land in jail before receiving treatment for drug addiction or never receive treatment at all – but if you think rehab is expensive, jail is much more costly. Putting someone in jail for a year costs approximately $24,000 and it’s a revolving door. Addicts cycle in and out and these costs don’t account for additional expenses related to the privatization of the American prison system.

Phoning home, for example, can cost as much as 25 cents a minute and inmates are even charged for their uniforms. Since prisoners are paid pennies on the dollar for labor done during their sentence, they can hardly afford to pay to be punished – all while receiving little to no help for their addiction.

Healthcare Consequences

Drug use has always been expensive from a healthcare perspective, but the increasing severity of the opioid epidemic has caused those costs to escalate on several fronts.

First, individuals and local emergency services are becoming more reliant on naloxone, the overdose reversing drug that can bring opioid users back from the brink of death. Unfortunately, with more people using opioids, drug manufacturers have spotted an inroad, increasing the price of naloxone significantly from $12 a dose in 2001 to $41 a dose in 2015. And with many users now injecting the stronger fentanyl and carfentanyl instead of heroin, more overdose victims need multiple doses of naloxone to be revived than in the past.

Second, with an increasing number of women struggling with addiction, hospitals are seeing a staggering number of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is the result of opioid exposure in utero – including exposure to addiction treatments like methadone and buprenorphine. These children are born with serious health problems and may suffer lifelong delays and disabilities due to prenatal exposure, adding to the costs associated with addiction.

Many of the costs associated with addiction are hidden in other categories, but that doesn’t mean drug use isn’t taking a serious financial toll. As a society we have to take complete responsibility for our neighbors and ourselves. Lives – and the economy – depend on it.

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