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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Meth Abuse Cost to Society - Billions of Dollars

Societal Cost of Meth Use Is Gauged in New Study

"It's destroying families; it's destroying our schools; it's destroying our budgets for corrections, social services, health care. We're losing a generation of productive people. My God, at the rate we're going, we're going to have more people in jail than out of jail in 20 years.“ - Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer

Published: February 4, 2009 in the New York Times

In the first effort to calculate the national price of methamphetamine abuse, a new study said the addictive stimulant imposed costs of $23.4 billion in 2005. While the authors, from the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., caution that many impacts were difficult to quantify, their study suggests that methamphetamine takes an economic toll nearly as great as heroin and possibly more.

Methamphetamine was named the primary cause of some 900 deaths in 2005, and the report estimates that premature mortality alone cost $4 billion. Its abuse has spread from Hawaii and rural areas of the West and South since the 1990s, slowly expanding to the Midwest and the East. In the process, it has wreaked havoc on addicts’ physical and mental health and on their families.

Federal surveys suggest that the share of Americans using the drug in a given year has stabilized, at about 1 percent of the population over age 12, which is far higher than the rate for heroin but half the rate for cocaine. About 400,000 Americans are believed to be addicted to methamphetamine, but a rising number are smoking it rather than taking it orally or snorting it. Smoking brings a faster, jolting high, quicker addiction and more ill effects.

The study is part of a project at RAND to evaluate the costs of drug addiction, financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and directed by Rosalie L. Pacula, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at RAND.

Extra financing for the report was provided by the Meth Project Foundation, a private group that seeks to prevent young people from using methamphetamine.

Dr. Wilson Compton, a division director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the study’s major innovation was its effort to quantify the effects of addiction on the quality of life — how factors like poor health, anxiety and paranoia shrink the addict’s horizons and pleasure over time. Such estimates have been made for heart diseases and other major ones but not for illegal drugs, Dr. Compton said.

These intangibles proved to be the largest costs, with an estimated price of $12.6 billion. Other major costs included $4.2 billion in crime and criminal justice, $904 million for endangered children put into foster care as a result of parents’ use, $687 million in lost productivity, $545 million for drug treatment, $351 million for health care and $61 million for injuries and deaths at exploding meth labs and for cleaning up the toxic wastes they produce.

Because of the difficulty in pinpointing the role of methamphetamine in crime, medical care and other factors, the RAND researchers gave a range of estimates, saying the overall toll may be as low as $16.2 billion or as high as $48.3 billion.

Several potentially major costs were not factored in because they could not be measured. These include, for example, the burdens imposed on the families and friends of addicts, and the burdens of children who are not taken into the foster system.

The study is available on the Web at

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