The social cost of drug use has been analyzed in two federal studies released recently, including one that says half of the men arrested in 10 major U.S. cities tested positive for at least one illegal drug.
A second study found that substance abuse and addiction cost federal, state and local governments at least $468 billion in 2005, accounting for more than one-tenth of combined government expenditures for all purposes.
According to the first report, from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, a survey of drug use among booked male arrestees in metropolitan areas across the country found that as many as 87 percent tested positive for an illegal drug.
Drug use among the arrestee population is much higher than in the general population, the study, released May 28, said. The percentage of arrestees testing positive for at least one illicit drug ranged from 49 percent in Washington, D.C., to 87 percent in Chicago.
The most common substances present during tests, in descending order, were marijuana, cocaine, opiates and methamphetamine, the report said. Many men tested positive for more than one illegal drug within 48 hours of their booking.
White House officials said the findings underscore a serious need to expand programs that work to divert nonviolent offenders into drug treatment programs instead of prison, given that more than 80 percent of arrestees in eight of the cities had at least one prior arrest.
"Not only does this new report reaffirm the strong link between drug use and crime, but it also tells us that we must concentrate our resources on programs that have been proven to break the cycle of drugs and crime," Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy, said.
"Incarcerating offenders without treating underlying substance abuse problems simply defers the time when they are released back into our communities to start harming themselves and our communities again," Kerlikowske said.
Meanwhile, a report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that of the $3.3 trillion in total federal and state government spending, 11 percent was spent on tobacco, alcohol and illegal and prescription drug abuse and addiction and its consequences.
Of the $374 billion in federal and state spending on those vices, more than 95 percent went to "shovel up the consequences and human wreckage of substance abuse and addiction" while only 1.9 percent was spent on prevention and treatment, the study said.
The report, also released May 28, was based on three years of research and is the first to assess the costs of tobacco, alcohol and illegal and prescription drug abuse to all levels of government.
"Under any circumstances, spending more than 95 percent of taxpayer dollars on the crime, health care costs, child abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and other consequences of tobacco, alcohol and illegal and prescription drug abuse and addiction and only 2 percent to relieve individuals and taxpayers of these burdens is a reckless misallocation of public funds," Joseph Califano Jr., the center's chairman, said.
Most of the spending on the burden of substance abuse and addiction went to health care, with the second largest amount spent on justice systems, including incarceration, probation, parole and criminal, juvenile and family courts.
Califano said any attempt to reform health care in the United States without providing for prevention and treatment of substance abuse and addiction would be absurd.
The study also said if substance abuse and addiction were its own budget category at the federal level, it would rank sixth behind social security, national defense, income security, Medicare and other health programs including the federal share of Medicaid. And if substance abuse and addiction were its own state budget category, it would rank second behind spending on elementary and secondary education.
For each dollar in alcohol and tobacco taxes and liquor store revenues that federal and state governments collect, the report said they spend $8.95 dealing with the consequences of substance abuse and addiction.
"Despite a significant and growing body of knowledge documenting that addiction is a preventable, treatable and manageable disease, and despite the proven efficacy of prevention and treatment techniques, our nation still looks the other way while substance abuse and addiction cause illness, injury, death and crime, savage our children, overwhelm social service systems, impede education -- and slap a heavy and growing tax on our citizens," Susan Foster, vice president of the Columbia center, said.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the studies confirm that the nation is in the midst of a drug abuse crisis in which millions of lives are being destroyed every year.
"The fact that marijuana is the drug most often used by people who are high when they commit crimes serves as an important reminder that our nation cannot let up on its war on drugs, including marijuana," Duke told Baptist Press.
In the multifaceted war on drugs, the United States must continue to work to stop the flow of illicit drugs into the country, Duke said. Citizens must do all they can to discourage illicit drug use and work harder to help people overcome drug dependency and gain the skills and opportunities they need to break the cycle of drug abuse and crime, he said.
"This effort will require more than government engagement. The church's involvement is crucial," Duke said. "Our ministry of evangelism must be only our beginning point in assisting people struggling with drug dependency and crime. After they have trusted Jesus as their Savior, the church must welcome them into loving environments that can provide them with the spiritual, emotional and other support and training they need to reclaim their lives."