UK: Cost of Drugs to Economy

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COST OF DRUG ADDICTION — Report to Parliament

(excerpt from Craig Mackinlay (Column 419WH)

I want to mention the financial cost, because it is hugely relevant to our economy. Figures I have put together suggest that the financial cost now amounts to a fairly reasonable chunk of our annual deficit. It is very difficult to pull figures together, but one that I have derived from headline data is £20.3 billion a year. That does not include some of the more unknown and abstract costs, such as opportunity costs of lost economic output from a potential workforce that is economically inactive due to drug dependency and the physical and mental effects of drug use.

To break the figure down, drug-related crime is estimated at just a fraction under £14 billion a year. The cost to the NHS in ongoing health issues resulting from drug addiction is £0.5 billion. The benefits and treatment cost is estimated at £3.6 billion–£1.7 billion in direct benefits, £1.2 billion in the cost of looked-after children of drug addicts, and £0.7 billion in addiction treatments such as methadone and Subutex. The cost to the courts, the Prison Service and the police in 2014-15 was £1.6 billion. An addicted person not in treatment and committing crime costs on average £26,074 a year. A somewhat dated Daily Telegraph report shows that a problem drug user could cost the state £843,000 over their lifetime–and that was in 2008.

Some of the other human costs are obvious, such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and personality disorders. Some 70% of those in drug treatment suffer from mental health problems. We might ask which follows which, but I think there is a clear link between drug use and  psychotic episodes. Cardiovascular disease is also an issue after a lifetime of drug misuse. Muscular and skeletal damage are commonplace among injecting drug users. Lung damage following the smoking of various drugs and derivatives is also prevalent. Poor vein health and deep vein thrombosis is common among injectors.

Then there is liver damage, which is expensive to treat, with hepatitis C causing cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer and death. Deaths can come in many forms, including through accidents, suicides, assaults and simple overdose, as well as misadventure from drug poisoning, and drug abuse and drug dependence. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2016 the highest number of deaths was put down to illegal drug use since records began in 1993. That fact is worth bringing to the table. Fewer than 1% of all adults in the UK are using heroin, but about 1% of heroin addicts die each year–10 times the equivalent death rate of the general population–and those deaths are predominantly from heroin and opioid use.

I will give the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) some figures for the UK. Between 2012 and 2015, opioid-related deaths in England rose by 58%. She will be pleased to know that in Wales that the rise was only 23; in Scotland it was 21% and in Northern Ireland, 47%. We now see an ageing cohort of drug users who began their drug-taking lives in the ’80s and ’90s coming through the system with increasingly complex health and social care needs, which have contributed to a recent spike in deaths.

A typical heroin user is likely to spend £1,400 a month on drugs–two and a half times an average mortgage. More than half of all acquisitive crimes–crimes including shoplifting, burglary, robbery, car crime, fraud and drug dealing, whether at a lower or higher level–are down to those on heroin, cocaine or crack. Those crimes have victims. To bring that down to a micro-level, figures from Kent County Council’s road safety team show there were 59 incidents of known drug-driving on Kent roads in 2016, with 16 resulting in serious injury and three in road accident deaths. Those figures are rising. In the last 10 years, Kent has seen 18 fatal, 70 serious and 142 slight accidents due to drug-driving incidents.

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