Global Cost of Drug Treatment Could Top $250 Billion

By McCarton Ackerman 06/27/12

The UN treatment estimate is huge—but the cost of lost productivity due to drug abuse could be even higher.

That's a hefty medical bill. Photo via

Drug abuse isn't cheap. This was more than confirmed by yesterday's report from the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime—they used figures from 2010 to estimate that the cost of drug treatment globally would reach about $250 billion per year if everyone who needed it received proper care. A far smaller amount than that is currently being spent on drug treatment; reportedly just one in five people who need help for their addiction actually get it. The amount quoted represents anywhere from 0.3-0.4% of the world's GDP—but the loss of revenue due to per capita falls in productivity through drug use is as much as 0.9% in the US. The $250 billion treatment figure also doesn't include losses of productivity and crimes committed by those needing to finance their habits. Approximately 230 million people, or five percent of the world's population, used drugs at least once in 2010, while 27 million people across the globe (about 1 in every 200 people) is a "problem drug user" (referring to chronic use of heroin or cocaine). The highly prohibitive costs of treating everyone who needs help with a drug addiction is a large reason why America's 40 million addicts overwhelmingly don't receive proper care.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.