Meth Costs U.S. More than $23 Billion in One Year
> 2/6/2009 11:26:02 AM

The RAND Corporation, one of the world’s most renowned think tanks, just completed the first comprehensive analysis of the cost of methamphetamines to the U.S. economy. Their report focuses on 2005, the most recent year for which complete records could be gathered. While the results have a large margin of error, with the estimate ranging from $16.2 billion to $48.3 billion, even the lowest end is cause for serious concern and strong action.

The best estimate from RAND is that $23.4 billion was lost  because of meth in 2005, a shocking cost for a drug that usually receives far less publicity than more notorious drugs like cocaine and heroin. This loss took into account drug treatment, other health costs, the intangible burden of addiction and premature death, lost productivity, crime and criminal justice costs, child endangerment, and harms resulting from production.

By far the largest cost category, addiction and death cost $16.6 billion. While these tragedies are hard to quantify, RAND has worked out equations to determine the value of lost quality of life, and they used the estimate that an entirely lost human life is worth $4.5 million.

The second largest category is comprised of the costs resulting from crime and the justice system. More than half of this $4.2 billion dollars was directly caused by meth-related offenses, but many other crimes like theft were committed by those desperate for the drug. These crimes not only caused massive damage to the property and health of others, but they also required expensive police and judicial action.

The rest of the costs were not as large, but many are substantial and one is unique to meth—the harms resulting from production. This cost is so heavy because the process of manufacturing meth is extremely dangerous, using as it does several highly flammable ingredients. Another notable cost was lost productivity at work. Absenteeism, presenteeism, lower probability of having a job, and employer drug programs added up to $687 million.

The results of this economic analysis highlight the massive tolls that meth exacts from the United States economy. Even if one were not spurred into action by the human suffering caused by meth, it would be hard for the cold-hearted to ignore the outrageous financial costs. This RAND report should be a crucial tool to persuade governments and corporations that fighting meth can save billions.

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