White House Study Shows Americans Spent $109 Billion on Drugs

By Paul Gaita 03/13/14

Though the study only includes data up to 2010, before the recent surge in heroin abuse, Americans now spend more on drugs than they do on furniture and appliances.

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I should've bought that new couch. Shutterstock

A White House-commissioned report from the RAND Corporation estimates that American drug users spent $109 billion on marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin during the year 2010.

The figures, sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and published as “What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs,” is not based on hard numbers, as no system exists to accurately record illegal drug sales. Rather, the figures in the report are drawn from surveys of drug use prevalence and frequency, as well as estimates for production and from law enforcement seizures.

According to RAND’s research, marijuana appeared to be the illegal drug of choice for most American users between 2006 and 2010, netting somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 billion. Cocaine and crack, which began the aughts with more than $50 billion in sales, dropped to roughly $28 billion by the close of the decade. Heroin sales remained largely unchanged during the decade, while meth rose sharply between 2000 and 2005 before experiencing a sharp drop by 2010. The estimated sale for all four drugs between 2000 and 2010 is $1 trillion – more than the gross domestic product for many developed countries.

The RAND report is tempered by several factors, including three years of marijuana data that does not compare to the rest of the decade due to survey changes. It also does not take into consideration any increase in marijuana use due to legalization in Colorado and Washington State, or the staggering rise in heroin use during the last four years.

Still, the numbers remain astonishing in their scope. As Bloomberg Businessweek grimly noted, the $109 billion spent on the four drugs covered in the study surpassed sales on electronics and appliances ($101 billion), furniture ($90 billion), and even alcohol sales at bars ($21 billion).

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.