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This chapter is from the book

Drug Use Is Costly in Many Ways

Many individuals and families know from first-hand experience how hurtful addiction can be, not only to the drug users, but also to individuals around them. The consequences of drug use include damaging families, relationships, or communities, and perhaps increasing the risks for serious illness or crime. Often, the drug user has vowed to stop and has tried to stop many times only to fall back and relapse into further drug use or dependence. The resulting feelings of helplessness, impotence, and failure can engulf and doom someone's entire world.

The personal and societal costs of drugs can be seen around us and in the media. Robert Downey Jr., a well known actor, producer, and singer, had a serious problem with drugs. He described to a judge how he couldn't stop using them even though he knew he was in trouble. He also said that while starring on the television series Ally McBeal, he was at a low point and didn't care if his acting career was over. But after five years of drug abuse, arrests, stints in rehab, and many relapses, he settled down to work on his problem. Ray Charles, the legendary performer, was addicted to heroin, but after his third drug bust, he went into rehab and gave up the drug. Fortunately, there are individuals who generously come forward, tell us their stories, and warn us about drugs. But not all drug users accept treatment or stop taking drugs, and that group generates great concern. There is even greater concern when our peers or the media glamorize drug use, which is quite dangerous.

Drug abuse is expensive. When we include additional health care costs, productivity losses, costs of crime, and so on, the dollar amount is great.5 In 2002, for example, overall costs exceeded 180 billion dollars, and loss of productivity accounted for a large portion of that (see Figure 1-2). Costs increased more than 5 percent annually since 1992, with the most rapid increase in costs related to the criminal justice system. These dollar figures are comparable to those for heart disease, cancer, and mental illness. They reflect a major drain on society's resources. Of course, dollar amounts do not begin to reflect the misery that drug use can create for the individual, his or her friends, and family.

Figure 1-2

Figure 1-2 Distribution of illicit drug costs in 2002 by major components. The largest fraction of the cost of drug abuse is due to loss of productivity. "Other" costs primarily reflect the costs of the criminal justice system (incarceration, court costs, and so on) costs to victims of related crimes, and costs for social welfare. From source cited in note 5.

While the problems are great, they are not hopeless. Perhaps determination is wanting. Dr. Bertha Madras, a Harvard researcher in drug addiction and a former White House official, says, "When viewed from a national perspective, the drug abuse problem in this country is staggering. Yet I am certain that we can develop effective solutions and strategies if we overcome our biggest challenge—finding resolve."

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