Substance abuse costs Canada money

Aug 20, 2020

According to the findings of a new report released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), substance use by Canadians is costing close to $46 billion annually. The report, entitled Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms, also states that this translates into $1,250 for every person in the country, while substance use was responsible for 275,000 hospitalizations and nearly 75,000 deaths in Canada in 2017.

The report focused on evaluating the healthcare and criminal justice costs associated with Canadians’ substance use, in addition to costs linked to lost productivity and other factors associated with consumption of alcohol, tobacco, opioids, cannabis and cocaine.

The report covers the years 2015-17 and demonstrates that alcohol and tobacco use results in the highest financial impact, accounting for $16.6 and $12.3 billion, respectively, or nearly 63% of the total costs. Opioid use was third on the list, at nearly $6 billion, or 12.9%, followed by cocaine ($3.7 billion, 8.1%), cannabis ($3.2 billion, 7.0%), and then the other central nervous depressants and stimulants accounted for about $2 billion each.

The findings of the report demonstrate that lost productivity due to substance use was associated with premature deaths, as well as short- and long-term disabilities, accounting for largest portion of Canada’s substance-use costs, totalling $20 billion, or 43.5% of the total costs. Healthcare costs accounted for the second-largest portion of the costs, at $13.1 billion (28.4%), followed by criminal justice costs ($9.2 billion, 20.1%) and other direct costs, including federal research funding, fire and motor vehicle damage, workplace drug testing and employee-assistance programs ($3.6 billion, 7.9%).

Compared to data collected in 2015, there was an increase in costs linked to substance use in 2017, and the increases also differed according to substances used. The costs associated with opioid, cocaine and central nervous system stimulant use have increased, as well as costs related to alcohol consumption. However, the financial burdens associated with tobacco use have slightly decreased over the same period.

Matthew Young, CCSA scientist and the principal investigator of the study, said that reduced costs linked to tobacco use reflect investments made by public health agencies to inform the public of tobacco harms.

“The same is not necessarily true with alcohol. In many ways, alcohol has become more widely available and allowing industry self-regulation results in a loss of policy control over alcohol marketing and advertising, especially online.” Matthew Young, CCSA principal investigator

The report also compared provinces in terms of substance use costs, revealing that Ontario demonstrated lowest per-person cost for substance use in Canada. In contrast, Nunavut and Northwest Territories, had the highest associated costs, reflecting high alcohol and tobacco consumption and high healthcare costs.

According to the researchers, costs of substance abuse can also change due to factors including COVID-19, which is linked to increased consumption of alcohol, and legalization of cannabis.