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Substance abuse is an ubiquitous public health issue and so too are the quantitative & qualitative ramifications.  But what is the real cost of addiction? An often asked and abundantly loaded question, but without context it can be very hard to humanize the real factors that add to the ongoing epidemic.

There is plenty of literature on the aggregate costs as they relate to healthcare, legal, income, etc. but sometimes looking at specific niche areas allows us to better understand how we arrive at these numbers.  Rather than a high level approach which can be found here, let’s apply a granular lens and take a closer look.

The Costs to Family Members of the Addict

With so much consideration being focused on the addict it is easy to overlook just how the family members are impacted.  Imagine a loved one, living in your direct environment – a person you care deeply for and would go to great lengths to protect (even if that process inadvertently inhibits effective care).  Certainly one can imagine a host of areas where loved ones may have to step in, such as loans, absenteeism from work, therapeutic expenses, pharmaceuticals, treatment costs, food, shelter, etc… but consider the opportunity cost for those individuals.  Family members essentially become unpaid front line health care providers that dedicate their time, effort and energy to supporting the addict in their life rather than engaging in society and realizing their full individual potential.  Anyone who has supported an addicted family member can understand the sheer volume of time that goes into the fight: time that was not expended in a personally constructive way.

Finally, consider the impact on our social systems and how family members would call upon these frameworks for help and guidance. Although it is hard to determine what the financial cost of supporting someone with addiction is, and situations vary greatly, one study from the UK has theorized the cost to families with an addicted individual at approximately $17,700 CND (at current exchange rate) each year before adjustments (Copello, 2010).  A staggering number when you consider that the addict’s own costs are not included.

The Cost of Meth Addiction

Of course we could select any substance to discuss here, but let’s break down a report by the Drug Policy Research Center conducted in 2005 on meth addiction as an example.

In this report, the researchers concluded that methamphetamine costs in the United States reached an astounding $23.4 billion (Nicosia et al, 2005).  This account considers an expansive range of issues and explores some very powerful constituents from the “burden of addiction, premature death, drug treatment, and aspects of lost productivity, crime and criminal justice, health care, production and environmental hazards, and child endangerment” (Nicosia et al, 2005).

There are many factors influencing the aggregate costs such as incarceration, theft of property, child maltreatment costs and the implication on foster housing, lab cleanup & hazardous waste removal, productivity costs, workplace/communal implications, workers compensation, quality of life, disease & injury from the use and/or production, and many, many others.

These are only a few examples of the hundreds (if not thousands) of consequential areas of addiction that ultimately frame these enormous national expenses we read about, but struggle to comprehend. It is not only a serious public health issue, but an economic security issue of significant proportion.

Like other societal devastations, just imagine how we could better utilize our resources and where we could be if an effective and comprehensive public health strategy were adopted.

Nicosia, N., Pacula, R. L., Kilmer, B., Lundberg, R., & Chiesa, J. (2009). The economic cost of methamphetamine use in the United States, 2005 (No. MG-829-MPF/NIDA). RAND HEALTH SANTA MONICA CA.

 Copello A, Templeton L, Powell J. The impact of addiction on the family: Estimates of prevalence and costs. Drugs: Education, Prevention & Policy[serial online]. December 2010;17(Suppl 1):63-74. Available from: PsycINFO, Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 21, 2016.

About Carson McPherson

I am and do many things, but most importantly I am a father of two beautiful young girls and the proud husband to an amazing wife. As you'll see from my blog as time goes on, addiction has played a central role in my family for generations and has become the passion for which I base my work today. Enjoy and engage!

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