Report Estimates Illegal Drug Expenditures Over $100 Billion Annually
Articles / Blog
03-19-14 Category: Drug Rehab

A new report says that people who use illegal drugs in the United States spend approximately $109 billion a year on marijuana, cocaine (including crack), methamphetamine and heroin. While the total figure has been stable over the period from 2000 through 2010, patterns of spending have shifted.

In 2010, an estimated $41 billion was spent on marijuana, $28 billion on cocaine, $27 billion on heroin, and $13 billion on meth. In 2000, an estimated $55 billion was spent on cocaine, $23 billion on heroin, $22 billion on marijuana, and $8 billion on meth, for a total of $108 billion.

Estimates for high, low and mid-range consumption and spending are included in the report. For example, the mid-range for estimated spending on cocaine in 2010 was $28 billion, within a range of $18 billion to $44 billion. The mid-range of spending on marijuana in 2010 was $41 billion, while the range was $30 billion to $60 billion.

RAND Corporation Report Commissioned by White House

The study, from the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, was commissioned by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). It found that marijuana consumption increased by 40 percent between 2000 and 2010, and more than 30 percent between 2006 and 2010, while consumption of cocaine (including crack) fell by about 50 percent. Consumption of methamphetamine increased dramatically in the first half of the decade, and then declined through 2008; the researchers say that there was insufficient data to generalize about trends in meth consumption from 2008 to 2010.

Calculations for marijuana users and expenditures were based exclusively on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data, which does a good job collecting data about chronic marijuana users. Data regarding the other three drugs (cocaine, heroin and meth) is harder to obtain, the RAND researchers noted. For those drugs, chronic users were grouped into categories: those who used drugs 21 days in the past month; those who used drugs 11-20 times in the past month; those who used the substance four to 10 times in the past month; and casual or occasional users who consumed drugs less frequently and consequently contribute less per capita and in aggregate to total spending.

Limitations to the Report

The researchers warned that caution is necessary in interpreting the report, which is based on data from a variety of different sources. Those include the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program, which was discontinued twice during the 10-year period.

The ADAM program looked at arrested males who tested positive for drugs; ADAM was in place in urban counties, however, and meth use has been a serious rural problem. Changes in the questions and methodology of the NSDUH mean that year-to-year data is not always completely comparable. The researchers also warned about the limitations of self-reported data.

Coke and Meth Use Down, Pot Use Up

More people are using marijuana, but fewer people are using cocaine and methamphetamine. Heroin use was stable over the decade, according to the report. The report also attempts to differentiate expenditures on illegal drugs by “the minority of heavy users” as opposed to casual users. Chronic users are defined as individuals who used a particular drug four or more days in a month.

The report states that the number of daily or near-daily users of marijuana in 2010 was 5.9 million, up from 2.5 million in 2000. Directly comparable data is not available, but adjusted data in the report says that in 2006 there were 2.2 million chronic cocaine users (1.3 million male and 900,000 female), 741,626 chronic heroin users (575,877 male and 165,748 female), and 1.6 million chronic meth users (1 million male and 600,000 female).

The Cost of Chronic Drug Use

The report estimates that chronic users of cocaine, heroin and meth in 2006 spent $986, $1,055 and $1,072 respectively per month. Data from people arrested between 2000 and 2003 indicates that users of cocaine and crack spent an average of $51.39 per day; heroin users spend an average of $46.54 per day; and meth users spent about $62.43 per day.

Estimated spending on cocaine went from $55.1 billion in 2000 to $28.3 billion in 2010, a 15 percent decline. One factor in the downward trend is a reduction in chronic use of crack in the latter part of the decade.

Observations about illegal drug use are contained – and sometimes masked – by the statistical and economic language of the report.  For example:

  • Since illegal drugs are subject to considerable quantity discounts, gram-level prices are not a good reflection of the average amount that heavy users spend per gram obtained.
  • Heavy users of expensive drugs are often impoverished and unable to maintain large inventories of either cash or drugs…

The report says that because heavy users often have difficulty obtaining “quantity discounts,” they pay more for the equivalent of a pure gram, and therefore are consuming less per dollar spent.

Chronic Drug Use Trends

Adjusted data from the NSDUH indicates that in 2000, 10.6 million people smoked marijuana four or more days of the previous month, a figure that rose to 17.7 million in 2010. The number of people who used cocaine on four or more days of the previous month went from 3.3 million to 2.5 million in the same period. The number of people who used meth four or more times in the previous month went from about 900,000 in 2000 to a peak of 2.6 million in 2005 and 2006, and then declined to 1.6 million in 2010.

The reported increase in heroin use appears consistent with anecdotal reports about prescription opiates becoming “gateway drugs” for heroin for some people, the RAND researchers observed. They noted that the report does not address the recent increase in heroin use, or legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Medical use of marijuana is not mentioned.

Sovereign Health Group

Sovereign Health Group offers state-of-the-art, evidence-based treatment for addiction to marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, as well as other substances. As a facility licensed for dual diagnosis treatment, we can also treat co-occurring conditions. We are also accredited by the Joint Commission, indicating that we meet the highest national standards.

We combine individual and group therapy with complementary alternative therapeutic activities such as meditation, yoga, art therapy, music therapy, and equine therapy for a holistic approach that treats the individual and not the disorder. You can learn more about our program here, or call our Admissions team at 866-264-9778.

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