It shouldn’t be news that there is currently a massive opioid crisis in the United States. Questionable marketing tactics, dirty doctors, and general societal ignorance toward prescription painkillers has lead to arguably the worst public health crisis this country has ever seen. The death toll caused by heroin and other opioids has tripled in the last 15 years and, in 2016 alone, the death toll rose an alarming 19% compared to 2015 (the largest recorded jump). The number of human losses is well documented, but what about the public’s financial cost of heroin addiction?
The Numbers Provide Answers
When the death toll is examined alone, it causes panic within governments and healthcare communities. After the New York Times published a study estimating the 2016 drug overdose death toll, several states began to scramble for answers. With pushing 60,000 deaths in 2016 (more than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War), it is understandable that some states are feeling an urgent need to resort to old-school approaches on addiction: heftier drug laws, increased sentencing, and aggressive police sting tactics. Throughout American history, the general consensus of countering the cost of heroin addiction was to “fight fire with fire.”
Though it can be tempting to rationalize locking up anyone that is associated with heroin in an attempt to save our children and society, it is much more important to examine the facts rather than respond to emotions. I really don’t mean to sound unemotional though. The high death toll is truly tragic, to say the least. I have been personally affected by this epidemic, which is actually why I feel so passionately about solutions. The public cost of heroin addiction isn’t just about money, it is about what works and what doesn’t.
When close friends or family are destroyed by heroin addiction, it is even that much more imperative to research what truly works when it comes to fighting addiction: opposed to succumbing to anger. Understanding the public financial cost of heroin addiction really casts a new perspective on the root of the problem. Not only is jailing and imprisonment proven to be ineffective at solving addiction, it costs society an astronomical amount of money, which instead could be invested in programs that work.
How Is The Cost Determined?
Researchers from the University of Illinois- Chicago calculated the average public financial cost of heroin addiction per user by examining all of the ways a heroin addict impacts both themselves and all of those they interact with. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The study includes probably every single possible scenario that is directly caused by heroin addiction. The cost of heroin addiction treatment and overdoses are obviously heavily considered, but these are probably the first costs that come to mind. The costs of so many other factors are also included, such as treatment for communicable diseases that are often spread through IV heroin use like Hepatitis C and B, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and several others. Additionally, treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs in infants that are exposed to heroin while in the womb, are also added to the estimates.
Furthermore, the study factors in the correlation between heroin addicts and crime, incarceration, and the probability that they are significantly less productive than other members of society. This results in lost potential income and services, which otherwise could save the public money. Low productivity and healthcare combined with incarceration leads to the exorbitant amount of public cost of heroin addiction.
What Is The Cost Of Each Individual?
The final estimated cost to society is determined by averaging the cost of each individual and then multiplying that number by the number of heroin addicts in the United States (around one million). The researchers had very telling discoveries, the most significant being the cost of the incarceration of heroin addicts.
- Average cost of incarcerated heroin user: $75,000
Heroin users who end up in jail are particularly expensive to society. Heroin addicts are often involved in crime because the pain of withdrawal commonly leads a person to desperate and/or risky activity. Heroin users are commonly involved with theft or other forms of fraud in order to obtain enough money to afford ‘relief.’ They also often lack financial ability to afford a lawyer or bond. Incarceration is without a doubt the most significant contributing factor to the high cost of heroin addiction
- Productivity loss per incarcerated addict: $29,000
Because heroin users often lack the means to afford bail, they spend a longer amount of time in jail, which results in less time being productive members of society.
- Average cost of the incarceration itself: $31,000
As mentioned above, heroin users can rarely afford bail. This means they wait in jail until their court date. Depending on the jurisdiction, it could take weeks or months before coming before a judge. This cost comes directly out of the pocket of taxpayers.
- Costs associated with Hepatitis or HIV treatment: $9,000-$300,000
The costs of healthcare in prison can be the most expensive cost to taxpayers. Jails and prisons often have poor disease testing standards and therefore have high rates of communicable diseases. Depending on the jurisdiction, inmates may receive health care provided by the state. Though this may seem inevitable regardless of incarceration, it is actually more common for inmates to contract a severe illness while in jail than on the street (which is also treated in jail). Essentially, in correctional facilities, communicable diseases give heroin addicts and taxpayers alike a double-edged sword. What might seem as personal loss for each user is actually a public cost of heroin addiction.
What About Non-Incarcerated Heroin Users?
The researchers in the study concluded that the average public cost of heroin addiction per user is around $50,800. Though not as high as specifically incarcerated individuals, that number is still roughly the same as the American individual median income ($51,272). Unfortunately, regardless of criminal activity or not, the average cost of heroin addiction combined ends up being roughly $51 Billion.
These costs have many factors but a solution was also provided in the study. The scientists concluded that not only is addiction treatment more effective than jail, but it also puts far less financial burden on society. The scientists claim that funding addiction treatment will help reduce crime, incarceration, public spending, and overdose deaths as a whole.
How Pinnacle Can Help
One of the most effective ways to beat addiction is to start recovery at an addiction treatment center. Pinnacle Treatment Center is a comprehensive program that addresses the root causes of addiction and how to overcome it. The staff at Pinnacle include doctors, nurses, and licensed therapists. Pinnacle offers both inpatient and outpatient programs. If you are suffering from drug withdrawal, Pinnacle can comfortably and safely provide detoxification services that include medication-assisted treatment drugs like Suboxone.
Pinnacle provides intensive therapy along with lectures and exercises for life skills and relapse prevention. Patients will be involved in group therapy sessions as well as 12-step groups like NA and AA. Pinnacle will even help manage aftercare planning to ensure their patients remain on the right path after treatment. A well-rounded program like this is the best way to start recovery today and take control of your life.