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Drugless America


Across the United States, substance use and addiction continue to be one of the most significant problems facing society. Over the past year, more than 47 million individuals are estimated to have used illegal drugs, and over 7.7 million report suffering from a substance use disorder related to illicit drug use.

The recent opioid epidemic, as well as the abuse of other ever-present illicit substances, has tested U.S. resources. America’s spending on many diverse efforts to counteract and prevent the rates of substance use disorder is staggering, amounting to tens of billions of dollars each year. These efforts aim to control and reduce substance abuse, and they pay off in real results.

But what if we did succeed in wholly eliminating America’s drug abuse problem? How could the spending be re-allocated? We’ve examined the country’s entire spending on prevention and treatment programs as well as the many costs of drug abuse in criminal justice, health care, and other social systems. Read on and learn more about the astonishing numbers behind what it takes to address addiction in the United States.

A Look Inside 10 Years of American Drug Control Spending

Efforts to address drug abuse are considerably high at the federal level. For instance, the recent 21st Century Cures Act passed by the House of Representatives would offer $1 billion in grants for states to use to fight the opioid dependence epidemic. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy sets forth a substantial and comprehensive budget for the National Drug Control Strategy. The sum altogether is impressive – for the coming year of 2017, more than $31 billion has been requested to carry out the many aspects of the strategy. The most recent budget draws attention to a particularly urgent issue across the nation – the opioid epidemic. Upcoming initiatives will provide extensive funding for treatment and recovery from heroin and opioid addiction as well as overdose prevention programs. Other initiatives receiving heavy support include Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, which keep records of individual patient access to prescriptions for controlled and addictive medications such as opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines. Nearly $16 billion of the national plan is devoted to prevention and treatment.

Law enforcement antidrug efforts likewise receive extensive national funding. These resources are directed toward programs such as local community-level drug abuse prevention, DEA initiatives aiding the hardest-hit regions, and law enforcement efforts focused on areas with high instances of drug trafficking. And while methamphetamine (crystal meth) production and use has declined somewhat in recent years, enforcement efforts to find and eliminate meth labs remain a priority as well. Billions more are spent on border control efforts to prevent illicit substances from entering the country via land, air, or sea. Many people may not think of the Coast Guard or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) when considering the funds needed to combat substance abuse; however, many organizations are required to address the many dimensions and facets of drug use in America.

The $31 billion accounts for just one year of the National Drug Control Strategy budget, and since 2008, a total of $213.4 billion dollars has been spent on these initiatives — that’s nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars. If that figure is hard to wrap your brain around, consider instead what this  massive sum represents: The money spent on drug control would pay for more than 22 million years of tuition to an in-state college, or more than 5.7 million four-year public university scholarships.

How Much Does One Second Cost Us?

Yearly budgets buried among other billion-dollar expenses may seem arcane and obscure, but the cost of substance use  is imminent and very real. The use of illicit substances impacts Americans daily in the form of lost productivity, and health care spending to treat addiction  and the myriad of physical harms that result from both acute and chronic drug abuse. Each year, this is estimated to amount to $193 billion, massively eclipsing the quantity spent yearly on the overarching national drug control efforts.

It’s not a quantity that can be considered once a year and then dismissed – it’s a cost Americans bear at every moment. The  $193 billion in spending equates to $6,120 spent every second. This alone is nearly two-thirds of the cost of a year of college, a quantity of money that’s not easily obtainable to many Americans.

By the end of just one day, nearly $529 million in substance abuse-related expenses are incurred in the U.S. At the end of a week, America has spent  $3.7 billion, and each month, an amount nearing $15.9 billion. After a year has passed, Americans have incurred expenses equal to the funds necessary for more than 8 million years of initial treatment for breast cancer for women aged 65 or older or for health insurance coverage to more than 36 million people. These rapidly growing sums drive home just how extensive the problem of drug use is.

Drug Courts: Essential yet Underfunded

Drug courts are a component of the judicial system designed to focus on drug-related crimes and offenses. These courts generally make efforts toward remediation and recovery, offering many offenders a second chance rather than an immediate sentence. Such courts, designed to recognize that addiction is a medical problem that offenders struggle with, provide an opportunity to choose a path of healing instead of punishment.

Unfortunately, these courts are an area where spending is much sparser. In contrast to the billion- and trillion-scale spending on many other drug control efforts, drug courts received only $92 million in funding slated for 2017. This amounts to a mere 243 houses at the average total home price of $377,700 – a drop in the bucket and one that we could use more of. In comparison, the total domestic law enforcement budget for efforts to counteract substance misuse amounts to $9.5 billion – more than 100 times greater than the budget allocated to drug courts, or enough to buy about 25,152 houses. Choosing not to provide greater funding for the availability of drug courts is a choice to divert more drug offenders into the prison system, ultimately incurring far greater expenses associated with housing these inmates.

The Price of Prison

Another unfortunate element in the vast landscape of drug abuse is the imprisonment of those convicted of substance-related crimes – a surprisingly pricey cost all on its own. The results of enforcement against illicit drugs nationwide translate to more than 1.4 million arrests every year on charges involving drugs. Following arrest and trial, 208,000 people are imprisoned in state facilities, with a further 95,800 in federal prisons. While some of these  facilities may provide quality rehabilitation programs to those convicted, the costs are still tremendous.

This is a population approaching one-third of a million inmates, and the expenses of housing even one inmate for a year are significant. With an average of $30,619 spent by the government for each federal inmate yearly, this amounts to another $29.3 billion due to federal imprisonment of those charged with drug crimes. That quantity alone equates to the amount necessary to fund  222 million Americans’ electric bills for one month.

Help Is Available for Recovery From Substance Use

We’ve broken down the funds necessary to combat substance misuse and addiction in America and while these figures are staggering, it’s important to remember that much of these funds are helping real individuals who suffer and struggle with addiction. Our hope is that these figures illuminate the massive impact of addiction — not to deter funding — but to encourage recovery and intervention so the United States can one day see the disheartening statistics of addiction dramatically reduce in size.

Every American plays a role in reducing the national toll of addiction by either helping themselves or those around them reach recovery. If you’re searching for treatment options or hoping to help a loved one reach recovery, call American Addiction Centers any time at .


Multiple government agency sources, as well as figures provided by private agencies and organizations, were used for budgetary information and estimates of the equivalents in different goods and services. The average cost of coffee is based on a 2011 figure, and the breast cancer treatment is based on women over the age of 65. In addition, health care coverage was based on the Platinum-level coverage.


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