Substance Abuse Hammers Canadian Economy for $49.1 Billion

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TORONTO – NEWS – The Canadian Use Costs and Harms [CSUCH] 2007-2020 report released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR), substance use cost the Canadian economy $49.1 billion in 2020. This represents an increase of more than $11 billion, or nearly 12%, in per-person costs since 2007.

Lost productivity alone accounted for $22.4 billion, or $589 per person, in 2020. This includes the value of work lost due to premature deaths and long- and short-term disability. “The fact that lost productivity was the leading category of costs shows that substance use is not just a healthcare issue,” says Dr. Adam Sherk, a scientist at CISUR and a researcher for the study. “Employers can support their employees by developing supportive substance use policies and investing in prevention, harm reduction, and treatment programs.”

The report analyzed substance use costs by four key categories. In addition to lost productivity (45.6% of the total costs), healthcare costs accounted for $13.4 billion (27.4%). Criminal justice costs were $10 billion (20.3%), while other direct costs contributed $3.3 billion (6.7%). These figures illustrate how substance use issues can be found in many aspects of our everyday lives and that solutions are needed to address them.

The report also found that alcohol accounted for just over 40% of the total costs by substance at $19.7 billion. The costs of alcohol and tobacco use have diverged over time. Costs of alcohol use increased 21%, while per-person costs of tobacco use declined 20%. Opioid use cost $7.1 billion in 2020, the highest of any year examined. Nearly 75% of these costs were related to lost productivity and, more specifically, people dying at an early age from opioid use.

The per-person cost of substance use increased 11.8%, from $1,154 in 2007 to $1,291 in 2020. Per-person costs of opioids and stimulants increased the most of all substances since 2007, reflecting the increasingly toxic unregulated drug supply and the number of harms related to drug poisoning. The per-person cost of cannabis decreased 9.1% between 2018 and 2020 following the legalization of its recreational use. The decrease during the last three years was due to reduced criminal justice costs.

“There were nearly 74,000 deaths due to substance use in 2020, which was nearly 200 lives lost each day. Alcohol and tobacco account for over 85% of deaths alone,” explained Emily Biggar, CCSA Research and Policy Analyst, and a researcher on the project. “Our estimates show not only how substance use affects the healthcare and criminal justice systems but also the ability of people in Canada to work and contribute to the economy. Initiatives across the spectrum of prevention, harm reduction, and treatment are needed to improve the health and productivity of people in Canada.”

The CSUCH report is the third update in the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms project, with previous releases in 2018 and 2020. The report aims to better understand the societal economic costs and harms associated with substance use in Canada. These regularly updated estimates can be used to prioritize relevant public policies, create initiatives to target the harms caused by substance use, identify information gaps and research needs, and make changes to policy and societal responses to substance use.

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