The Startling Economics of Drug Abuse Infographics

Dec 12, 2013     No Comments    Posted under: Analysis, Infographics

The war on drugs has been called many things, but “economically feasible” has never been one of them. While there are many conversations happening in the country about the legalization of recreational drugs, one of the more persistent arguments will continue: whether to seek an end to addiction or an end to prosecution.

The Startling Economics of Drug Abuse Infographics

The Startling Economics of Drug Abuse Infographics


Thankfully, it’s easy to reduce the argument to a language that everyone speaks: money. It is estimated that 22.5 million Americans are drug users, which amounts to 8.7% of the population.

Most of the drugs in question follow a predictable pattern except for cocaine, which remained one of the few outliers. Cocaine is the second-most abused recreational drug, with 2.8 million “chronic” users and 4.7 million “occasional” users. It also has the distinction of being the only drug in the top four for which occasional users outnumber chronic users.

However, marijuana still boasts of being the most commonly abused drug, with about 13 million chronic users and 6.3 million occasional users.

What does this all mean, though? All combined drug use accounts for less than 10% of the population. With substance abuse on the rise, however, the economic fallout of these statistics is pretty staggering.

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The Cost to Drug Abusers

The current average price of marijuana is $20 per gram. Compare this to the asking price of prescription drugs, which comes in anywhere from $5 to $80 per pill. Cocaine is among the most expensive recreational drugs, at $45-160 per gram.

Collectively, in 2006, Americans spent about $38 billion on cocaine, $34 billion on marijuana, $18 billion on meth and $11 billion on heroin. This comes to a grand total of around $100 billion, and that’s just for a single year.

The Cost to Society

That’s the cost to drug abusers. What about the cost to the rest of society?

Every 19 seconds, someone is arrested somewhere for violating a drug law. Every 30 seconds, an American citizen is arrested for violating cannabis laws. This makes drug abuse violations the most common cause for arrest. No other offense comes close. In fact, it’s estimated that the Federal and State governments have spent over $1 trillion on the War on Drugs over the last four decades.

The frequency of drug-related arrests adds up to some significant costs to a taxpaying society. The criminal justice system requires some $56 billion per year, while incarceration and labor participation account for $48 billion and $49 billion, respectively.

The monetary cost of premature mortality is nearly $20 billion, while hospital and emergency treatment services account for another $6 billion.

Combined with the $100 billion spent on recreational drugs annually, these societal costs translate to a nearly $300 billion annual burden. That’s enough to give everyone in the world $40.

Bearing all of this in mind, the most logical conclusion would seem to be a renewed interest in eliminating drug abuse before it adds to the collective societal burden, as well as a greater awareness of rehabilitation options. It is estimated that nearly 2 million Americans seek treatment at outpatient rehab facilities annually. That’s encouraging, but it’s still only a fraction of that original 22.5 million.

No matter how free-spirited you might be and how likely you are to trust people to operate with their own best interests at heart, there’s no way around it: drug abuse takes a huge personal and economic toll, and society will soon have little choice but to answer the calls for help.

James is a freelance writer and blogs for 12 Keys Rehab.

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