Surveys and statistics provide hard facts regarding the drug epidemic gripping America. State-specific statistics exist, but they are often buried in charts within complex reports. Some surveys concentrate on youth, such as Monitoring the Future, which has been conducted annually by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research since 1975. It presents alcohol and drug abuse statistics on 8th, 10th and 12th grade students. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration releases a National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the fall (i.e., 2015 data was published in September 2016). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes drug overdose rates and some state-specific data. For example, CDC data shows Ohio, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Kentucky had the highest age-adjusted drug overdose deaths in 2015.
A 2014 White House report indicated Americans spent nearly a trillion dollars on drugs over the last decade. A new report reveals far more insights, with expenditures on illicit and prescription drugs and state-specific estimates. Although this study is limited by the relatively low number of people polled, it still encompasses financial data not published elsewhere, including in the aforementioned data surveys. The survey includes daily expenditures by drug type, state-level data for states with 10 or more responses and drug use by education level. The findings indicate Americans spend $100 billion a year on their collective drug habit.
Key Survey Findings
Marijuana was by far the most popular drug, coming in at 70.4%, with cocaine coming in second at a mere 6.49%. Even so, people spent more than three times the amount on cocaine than marijuana because it is a more expensive drug. Average daily spending on cocaine was $83 versus $25.60 for marijuana. Heroin was the fifth most commonly used drug but came in second in spending at $51.60 a day. The non-opioid prescription drug class benzodiazepines came in third in spending, at $44.26 a day. When spending for these four drugs was calculated over a lifetime, the results were astounding – cocaine: $16,198, heroin: $11,122, marijuana: $8,951 and benzodiazepines: $7,231.
In 2015, spending on prescription drugs increased by 12% to a record-high $425 billion. Along with spending, the misuse of prescription drugs for nonmedical use escalated beyond already epidemic levels. Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) was the most commonly abused prescription drug in this survey, accounting for nearly 48% of total opioid misuse. Oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin) comprised more than one-third of opioid misuse, while fentanyl drugs accounted for less than 3% of total use.
Drug spending appeared to escalate with a person’s education. Participants without a high school diploma spent nearly $12 a day on drugs, those with a high school degree spent $29 a day and individuals with a graduate degree spent $66 a day. More than one in 10 people who engaged in illegal activity resorted to sex work to pay for their habit. Of these, 70% indicated they had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Alaska came in first in daily drug spending, with an average expenditure of $384.30, nearly five times the spending of Ohio, which came in second at $77.50. The exorbitant spending in Alaska reflects the growing heroin epidemic gripping the state. On the other end of the spectrum, Idaho and Nebraska only spent 50 cents a day. Ohio, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Kentucky – the states with the highest rates of drug overdoses in 2015 – were all in the top 10. They ranked second, third, sixth and seventh, respectively.
The results of this survey mirror the conclusion of other data surveys: America is in the midst of a serious drug epidemic. We know from CDC data that 52,404 people lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2015. Now we know Americans are spending extraordinary amounts of money on drugs. Of course, throwing hard-earned money away is just part of the equation. Drugs destroy careers, relationships, result in overdoses and cause a significant loss of life. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, use our online search tool to locate treatment centers in your area.