The economic burden to society in general has been evaluated for some major illnesses such as heart disease but, until now, similar evaluations have not been made for drug addictions.  Now, however, the RAND Corporation has estimated the annual societal cost of using and becoming addicted to methamphetamine (meth) is approximately $23.4 billion.

The societal cost covers much more than the actual dollar amount of purchasing drugs and includes a number of intangible issues so the exact financial cost to the nation is not exact.  Estimates range from $16.2 billion to as much as $48.3 billion.

RAND, headquartered in Santa Monica, California, used federal surveys to determine that about 1% of the US population older than 12 uses methamphetamine in any given year.  In 2005, the year targeted by the study, 900 deaths were attributed to methamphetamine use as the primary cause.  As many as 400,000 people in the US are thought to be methamphetamine addicts.  By comparison, about .5% use heroin and 2% use cocaine.

Drug addiction affects the user’s quality of life in many ways.  It attributes to poorer health than would be expected otherwise and generates stress and anxiety.  The paranoia associated with drug addiction also diminishes an addict’s ability to cope with normal professional, social, and personal activities.  The RAND study assigned a dollar value to these intangible issues as well as other issues.  Some of their findings include:

  • $12.6 billion – the intangibles mentioned above.
  • $4 billion – cost of premature death due to meth addiction.
  • $4.2 billion – associated crime and criminal justice expenses.
  • $904 million – cost of foster care for children of addicts.
  • $687 million – lost productivity.
  • $545 million – drug treatment.
  • $351 million – health care.
  • $61 million – cost of injury and death that occurs when a meth lab explodes and the cost to clean up the toxic waste left behind.

While considered part of the overall societal burden, the study could not quantify the costs an addict’s friends and families bear or the financial burden imposed on children of addicted parents when the children do not become a part of the foster-care system.

The RAND study was funded in part by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.  It was directed by Rosalie L. Pacula, who serves as co-director for RAND’s Drug Policy Research Center.  The Meth Project Foundation provided additional funding.  The mission of the privately-owned foundation is to prevent young people from using this highly addictive drug.