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Money Talks: Three Ways Heroin Addiction Hurts the Economy

Heroin addiction hurts our economy.

Ensuring economic prosperity is one of the most important things we can do to secure a bright future for our country; but although most people have no trouble understanding how heroin addiction hurts the people who abuse it and their family members, pinpointing exactly how heroin addiction hurts the economy can be more complicated. A recent study highlights several big-picture ways heroin addiction hurts our economy, from medical care to losses in workforce productivity. Here are three invisible costs associated with heroin addiction you should know about.

Medical Costs: This one may seem obvious, but the aggregate effect of heroin addiction on the medical treatment infrastructure is much less frequently discussed that one might imagine. Utilizing data from the mid-90s, researchers in the study mentioned above estimated that heroin addiction treatment amounted to $5 billion dollars. That number will have only increased in the last decade and a half since heroin use has skyrocketed. Keep in mind, too, that because the kind of treatment people can get depends on what their insurance will pay for, and insurance companies are often more interested in keeping costs down than effectively treating addiction, large parts of the $5 billion estimate may have been wasted on lackluster facilities and regimens.

Productivity Loss: It’s extremely difficult to compute the amount of something you don’t have, but in order to truly grasp what heroin addiction is costing us as a country, estimating productivity loss is essential. Researchers estimated that the economy missed out on a whopping $11.5 billion because people were either unable to work or had to divert their labor towards addressing heroin addiction. As difficult as it is to estimate an unknown quantity, it’s even more difficult and heart-wrenching to consider the lost ideas, projects and dreams of individuals who could not fulfill their aspirations due to heroin addiction or the family members who were forced to care for them.

Criminal Activity: Though it’s true that the United States penal system does provide jobs to millions of Americans, the reality is that because these systems are often publicly funded, it is the taxpayer who must foot the bill for the public servants and systems that arrest, detain, sentence and treat those who fall into the criminal justice system as a result of heroin addiction. Researchers estimated that the total cost to the economy because of criminal activity, adjudication, and incarceration associated with heroin was approximately $5.2 billion.

The total financial cost of medical care, productivity loss, and criminal activity associated with heroin addiction adds up to an unbelievable $21.7 billion dollars. Recouping some of this money to put toward other endeavors may be enough of a financial incentive that politicians and community leaders may begin to take meaningful actions to prevent heroin addiction and treat it properly and effectively. The true disappointment, though, is that the pain and suffering of one individual, the addict, is not enough to spur us into immediate action.