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The Price Tag of Heroin in America: $51 Billion

If you’re hooked on heroin, you’ll spend an average of $150 a day to support your habit. That’s nearly $55,000 per year.

Heroin abuse comes with a pretty hefty price tag, unfortunately personal financial burden isn’t the only cash-flow issue left in its wake. Recent research revealed heroin abuse in the US cost our nation more than $51 billion in 2015.

How Heroin Hooks the Economy

Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago decided to look at the financial impact heroin has on our society. They developed a cost-analytic model to determine the repercussions. The variables included:

  • Number of imprisoned heroin users and their crimes
  • Treatment costs of heroin abuse
  • Chronic infectious diseases contracted through heroin use and cost of their treatments
  • Cost of treating newborns with medical conditions related to heroin
  • Lost productivity at work
  • Heroin overdose deaths

Combining all these factors, researchers discovered the societal cost per heroin user per year is $50,799. There are currently an estimated 1 million active heroin users in the United States. That puts the grand total at $51 billion. If you add in the $55,000 yearly total each user is spending on their habit (money that isn’t going back into the economy in other, healthy ways), that figure more than doubles. The staggering sum comes to more than $100 billion dollars each year our economy is losing to heroin. Ouch.

Comparing Budgets

Several other illnesses and conditions come with a big price tag in America. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes are two of the most expensive diseases to treat. These common chronic illnesses claim billions of dollars each year (as well as thousands of lives).

However, the cost per patient doesn’t come close to heroin abuse. COPD costs $2,567 dollars per person, for a total of $38.5 billion for all 15 million patients. The total cost for diabetes treatment is over $248 billion, but that breaks down to just $11,148 per person. At more than $50K per user, heroin’s cost blows those two diseases out of the water.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported in 2016 that heroin use has reached the highest level in 20 years. They say it’s the deadliest drug worldwide. Stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention support these claims. They report heroin-related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010. Between 2014 and 2015, overdose rates increased about 21 percent. 2015 saw a total of nearly 13,000 people die from heroin abuse.

And, heroin use and abuse is spreading. Previously confined to urban areas, it has now reached rural America and even encroached the boundaries of suburbia. By now, few neighborhoods are completely untouched by this opioid epidemic.

Will costs just keep climbing? These financial losses are accompanied by a heavy burden of emotional, physical and relational costs. Is there any end in sight?

UIC pharmacoeconomist Simon Pickard noted that “without meaningful public health efforts, the number of heroin users is likely to continue to grow.”

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