The 9 Most Expensive Drugs in America

cocaine being sold
Cocaine and tobacco are among the most expensive drugs in the United States.

Each year, Americans spend nearly $100 billion on illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

These figures do not even account for the billions of dollars that are spent on prescription drugs each year—about $374 billion according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics—or the amount spent on legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.

While Americans spend large sums of cash each year on drugs, the costs go beyond just dollars spent. The price of drugs also includes the harmful effects that they have on individual health and society as a whole when faced with funding law enforcement and the court system. All of these costs and more contribute to the financial impact of drugs on Americans.

Here are the 9 Most Expensive Drugs in America.

#1 Tobacco

Tobacco is by far the most expensive drug in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that tobacco costs Americans roughly $295 billion each year and $130 billion alone in healthcare costs. But as mentioned earlier, there are also many health costs associated.

Cigarettes and chewing tobacco can cause lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and mouth cancer. Think an e-cigarette or vaporizer is better for your health? Think again. Studies are finding that these alternatives can also have serious health implications. Despite its harmful effects, tobacco companies spend nearly $25 million a day on advertising to draw in new and young users.

#2 Alcohol

Alcohol is the second costliest drug in the United States. It is one of the few drugs that are legal and easily available, which is why it’s number 2 on this list.

Binge drinking, or having more than 4 or 5 drinks at one time, significantly increases the risk of health problems, missing workdays due to hangovers, crime, injuries, and automobile accidents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that excessive alcohol consumption costs the U.S. $224 billion every year. Most of this cost is due to people being less productive at work followed by healthcare costs.

#3 Pain Killers

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 4.3 million Americans use prescription opiate painkillers, such as Oxycodone, Percocet, and Vicodin, illegally. What’s most disturbing is that these drugs produce effects similar to heroin, putting users on a dangerous path to heroin use.

Each year, health insurance companies spend up to $72.5 billion on prescription opiates (Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, 2007) that actually end up in illegal markets and sold on the streets. Other costs of prescription opiates include accidents, health issues, and crime.

It may surprise you to know that prison and jail sentences related to prescription drug use are comparable to crime related to illicit drug use such as heroin and cocaine.

#4 Cocaine

Cocaine has a reputation as a “rich man’s drug.” At approximately $60 per gram, it is one of the most expensive party drugs, yet 1.5 million Americans are regular users. Each year, Americans spend a shocking $37 billion on cocaine as reported by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, but this does not compare to the costs of medical care and hospital visits. In 2011, there were over 500,000 emergency room visits due to cocaine use (SAMHSA, 2013).

#5 Marijuana

Marijuana is legal in some states but the debate of whether it is a medicine or a drug remains controversial. As we know with alcohol, a legal drug does not necessarily mean a safe drug.

Americans spend somewhere between $30 and $60 billion on marijuana each year, but this may be changing as marijuana becomes more readily available and legal. The long-term costs of using marijuana include a higher risk of heart attack, lung disease, anxiety, and depression.

#6 Heroin

Heroin has a reputation as a “cheap” drug, and a shocking truth is that many prescription drug users switch to heroin to save money. Purchasing a dose of heroin usually costs between $10 and $25. While initially cheap, heroin can be seriously addictive and costs can add up fast. Most heroin addicts spend about $150 every day to fuel their addiction.

Heroin also costs Americans over $22 billion per year in healthcare, law enforcement, and automobile accidents. Unfortunately, the most expensive price is that of a person’s life—heroin poses a serious risk of overdose and the spreading of deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.

#7 Methamphetamine

Meth users spend over $17 billion per year in the United States on the drug alone. Other expenses include—like other drugs—medical costs, law enforcement, and loss of productivity.

Meth is easily obtainable and is one of a few drugs that are made in the United States. It is often produced in secret labs that are filled with toxic chemicals such as battery acid and brake cleaner. Dismantling one meth lab can cost taxpayers anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000.

Another chilling fact that you may not know, is that children living in or near meth labs can suffer lifelong irreversible problems after being exposed to these chemicals.

#8 Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines (also known as “benzos”) are a hugely profitable group of prescription drugs often used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Brand names you may have hard include Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium.

In one year, Medicare alone spent $377 million on prescriptions for benzodiazepines. These drugs create effects similar to alcohol and—like alcohol—they pose serious health risks and can increase the risk of car crashes when driving under the influence.

Benzos can also be fatal when used in large amounts, mixed with other drugs, or when a person goes into withdrawal.

#9 Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs are a new group of man-made drugs that includes spice, K2, and bath salts. Scarily enough, these drugs can be easily purchased at gas stations and convenience stores. Their labels often say “not for human consumption,” which allows them to get around the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations.

Despite being legal and cheap, the health risks of synthetic drugs are shocking; paranoia, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, violence, and overdose, just to name a few.

The number of emergency room hospitalizations for synthetic drugs varies from several hundred to over 1,000 every month. While the exact costs of synthetic drugs are not known since they are relatively new, they clearly pose a significant risk to people’s health.

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