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Meth abuse costs nation more than $23 billion
The Press-Enterprise


February 05, 2009
Thursday PM

The economic cost of methamphetamine abuse in the U.S. -- including the cost to jail users, put addicts through treatment and clean up meth labs -- was about $23 billion in 2005, according to a just-released study

The findings are surprising given how little attention meth use has gotten in anti-drug campaigns compared with other drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana, wrote the authors of the study, which was conducted by the RAND Corp.

"Obviously the next step is to look into prevention efforts, enforcement efforts," said Nancy Nicosia, the study's lead author and a RAND economist.

Meth, sometimes known as "speed," "ice," and "crank," is a highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It can be smoked, inhaled or injected.

The RAND study was the first attempt to do a national assessment of the costs associated with meth use. Researchers looked at data from 2005 because it was the most recent year for which data needed to do the estimate was available.

According to the study, one big portion of the costs associated with meth use -- $4.2 billion -- is related to crimes committed by meth users to feed their habits and the cost of sending them through the criminal justice system.

A special report in The Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise last year showed that while meth production had plummeted in the inland California region, its use remained very high.

In two California counties --Riverside and San Bernardino -- about 58 percent of people admitted to public drug treatment facilities identified meth as their primary drug in 2006, much higher than the state average of 37 percent, according to records from the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.

A 2001 study estimated the cost of heroin addiction in the U.S. in 1996 at $21.9 billion .Maria Lozano Cox, a supervising behavioral health specialist in Riverside County, Calif., said she was not surprised to hear how far-reaching and deep the economic impact of meth use is on health care, criminal justice and social services.

"There's a huge domino effect with this drug," she said.

The cost associated with treating meth addicts in community-based clinics is estimated at $545 million.

Loss of productivity is identified as another substantial cost -- about $687 million.

Again, not a surprise to Cox. "We see clients who don't have jobs," Cox said. "These are people who aren't able to function at all to hold down a job. Survival for them becomes huge."

Even after users have stopped using the drug, it can take a year for some to recover normal brain function, Cox said.

Addicts often suffer short-term memory loss and problems focusing, she said.

The study also looked at the impact on children of meth users, and the costs associated with removing them from their homes and putting them in foster care. According to the study, that costs $905 million.

Sherry Eversole, a San Bernardino, Calif., County sheriff's detective who specializes in drug cases involving children, said there are a number of other costs that the study probably doesn't even take into account.

Children of meth users often have attention-deficit disorders, lack motivation, are depressed and confused, and are behind their classmates in school, she said.

According to the study, the estimated cost on society for each meth user in the country is $26,872.

Tom Siebel, founder and chairman of the Meth Project, a nonprofit dedicated to meth use prevention and the study's sponsor, said that the study "reinforces the need to invest in serious prevention programs that work."


E-mail Douglas Quan at dquan(at)
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