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"each dollar spent on prevention and treatment can save up to ten dollars"

Prevention and treatment remain essential to counteract the economic and social costs of drug abuse. Even in times of financial austerity, such investment must be maintained. The alternative - losing the potential of citizens - could be the worst “investment choice” of all. Raymond Yans, President INCB

Drug abuse affects numerous areas, including health, public safety, crime, productivity, and governance. Although accounting for the full, real dollar costs of drug abuse worldwide is challenging – due to data limitations – understanding the economic costs of drug abuse is necessary to develop policies that reduce such costs. 

INCB stresses that drug prevention and treatment are among the most cost-effective responses to counteract the economic consequences of drug abuse. Most studies have shown that for every dollar spent, good prevention programmes can save governments up to US$10 in later costs; therefore Governments’ investments in prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programmes, and their regulatory control systems, must be maintained - even in times of financial austerity. While costs and consequences may vary widely across geographic regions, INCB, as part of its recommendations, urges Governments in all countries to integrate policies and initiatives against drug trafficking into national programmes, bearing in mind the principle of shared responsibility and the key goal of strengthening of institutions at all levels of governments.

Health, public safety, productivity, crime and governance - all economic and social costs of drug abuse

Health: Although the impact on health stands out as one of the most important consequences in terms of economic loss, investments in treatment are cost-effective versus the cost of untreated and continuing abuse or the cost of incarceration: in the United States every US$1 invested in treatment yields a return of between US$4 to US$12 in reduced crime and healthcare costs.

Heroin, cannabis and cocaine are the drugs most frequently reported by people entering treatment worldwide, and only one in six problem drug users worldwide, some 4.5 million people, receives the required treatment, at a global cost of about US$35 billion annually.

The proportion of drug users who receive treatment varies extensively from region to region. In Africa only 1 in 18 problem drug users receives treatment; in Latin America, the Caribbean and Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, approximately 1 in 11 problem drug users receives treatment, and in North America an estimated 1 in 3 problem drug users receives treatment interventions.

The drug-related mortality rate in North America remains the highest in the world, according to information provided by Governments in the region, with approximately 48,000 drug-related deaths in North America in 2011, which amounts to mortality rate of 155.8 per million inhabitants aged 15-64. Globally, it is estimated that there are 211,000 drug-related deaths annually, which account for between 0.5 and 1.3 per cent of all-cause mortality for people aged 15-64 years, with younger people facing a particularly high risk.

Environmental consequences: Degradation and fragmentation of forests as a result of illicit cultivation of drugs, and the loss of areas where food can be grown both have detrimental effects on the environment and food security. In addition, the illicit manufacture and disposal of drugs and pharmaceuticals causes significant environmental contamination, including chronic exposure to low doses of drugs.

Crime: The cost of crime, as a result of drug abuse, relates to burdens placed on law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, in addition to the increased incarceration rates resulting from behaviour related to drug use. Studies show that the overall costs of predominately three types of crime usually associated with drug abuse - the psychopharmacological crime that refers to crime or violence committed under the influence of drugs; the economic-compulsive crime when drug users engage in crime to support their drug consumption and addiction; and systemic crime that occurs, for example, as a result of disputes over “drug turf” - are costly, but vary from region to region.

Governance and vulnerable populations: Drug abuse, poverty and weak governance are often linked in multiple ways. Drug-related corruption can weaken governance, which in turn can be associated with increased illicit drug crop cultivation, illicit drug production, manufacture, trafficking and drug abuse, all of which can have a grave impact on specific populations, such as children, women and people who live in poverty.

What can societies do to reduce the overall cost of drug abuse?

Specific and targeted prevention, more efficient justice systems that can deter drug abuse and offer alternatives to incarceration, and policies against drug trafficking that are integrated into development programmes are among recommendations that INCB provides in the Annual Report for 2013 to reduce the economic and social costs of drug abuse.

INCB urges Governments to scale-up their implementation of the three international drug control treaties and recommended policies, and to increase their collaboration as well as partnerships with relevant international organizations, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund. 

Excerpts from The International Narcotics Control Board's Annual Report. The INCB is an independant control organ for the implementation and monitoring of the United Nations drug conventions.

Source : United Nations Information Service (UNIS) and INCB