Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents

From a recent government report:

1.1. Costs of Substance Abuse
Studies have shown the annual cost of substance abuse to the Nation to be $510.8 billion in 1999 (Harwood, 2000). More specifically,

  • Alcohol abuse cost the Nation $191.6 billion;
  • Tobacco use cost the Nation $167.8 billion;
  • Drug abuse cost the Nation $151.4 billion.

Substance abuse clearly is among the most costly health problems in the United States. Among national estimates of the costs of illness for 33 diseases and conditions, alcohol ranked second, tobacco ranked sixth, and drug disorders ranked seventh (National Institutes of Health [NIH], 2000). This report shows that programs designed to prevent substance abuse can reduce these costs.

1.2. Savings From Effective School-Based Substance Abuse Prevention
If effective prevention programs were implemented nationwide, substance abuse initiation would decline for 1.5 million youth and be delayed for 2 years on average. It has been well established that a delay in onset reduces subsequent problems later in life (Grant & Dawson, 1997; Lynskey et al., 2003). In 2003, an estimated:

  • 5.6 percent fewer youth ages 13–15 would have engaged in drinking;
  • 10.2 percent fewer youth would have used marijuana;
  • 30.2 percent fewer youth would have used cocaine;
  • 8.0 percent fewer youth would have smoked regularly.

The average effective school-based program in 2002 costs $220 per pupil including materials and teacher training, and these programs could save an estimated $18 per $1 invested if implemented nationwide. Nationwide, full implementation of school-based effective programming in 2002 would have had the following fiscal impact:

Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

  • Saved State and local governments $1.3 billion, including $1.05 billion in educational costs within 2 years;
  • Reduced social costs of substance-abuse-related medical care, other resources, and lost productivity over a lifetime by an estimated $33.7 billion;
  • Preserved the quality of life over a lifetime valued at $65 billion.

Although 80 percent of American youth reported participation in school-based prevention in 2005 (SAMHSA, 2004), only 20 percent were exposed to effective prevention programs (Flewelling et al., 2005).

2 thoughts on “Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents

  1. Hi,Wonderful post. All true – but the problem is the institutional obstacles to implementing effective drug education like standardized testing, lack of funding, belief by adults that drug education is not effective, and more. Jeff WolfsbergPrevention Specialist


  2. Great post – We recently wrote something on the tremendous savings that this country would realize from treating addicts instead of jailing them. It would save a little money in the short run, but the long haul is where the payback is really at.


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