Drug, Alcohol, Smoking Abuse Costs $468 Billion



Government spending related to smoking and the abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs reached $468 billion in 2005, accounting for more than one-tenth of combined federal, state and local expenditures says a study reported by the New York Times. Most abuse-related spending went toward health care costs for lung disease, cirrhosis, and overdoses, for example, or for law enforcement expenses including incarceration, says the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Just over 2 percent of the total went to prevention, treatment, and addiction research.

Shifting money from hospitals and prisons to addiction treatment and research has never been politically easy, and it is all the harder now because the federal government and most states face large budget deficits and are cutting many key services. Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said it was misleading to lump together direct costs of tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse, like ill health, with expenses relating to enforcement of drug laws and prison. Many of the criminal justice costs, he said, are not an inherent result of drug use but rather of policy choices to criminalize it.

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