Americans Spend Almost $150 Billion a Year on Illicit Drugs

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Drug-users in the United States spent almost $150 billion on cocaine (including crack), marijuana (both legal and otherwise), heroin, and methamphetamine in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

That’s according to figures released last week by the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization, based on a methodology they developed for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The study, which tracked the amount spent on those four drugs between 2006 and 2016, found that the total fluctuated between $120 billion and $145 billion annually over the 10 year period. That’s only slightly less than we paid out for alcohol in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available.

A recent study suggests that alcohol and weed are more closely interwoven than we might expect — that using marijuana could turn you into a heavy drinker.

Researchers also learned that spending on marijuana increased over the course of the study from $34 billion to $52 billion — about a 50% increase — and that the marijuana market today is roughly the size of that for cocaine and methamphetamine combined. (Currently, 11 states have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults, and the RAND figures don’t differentiate between legal and illegal purchases.)

Heroin consumption increased about 10% per year between 2010 and 2016, according to the study, while cocaine use began to increase again in 2016 after falling substantially between 2006 and 2010 and declining somewhat in 2015.

“Methamphetamine estimates are subject to the greatest uncertainty,” according to the authors of the study, “because national data sets do not do a good job of capturing its use.”

They also note that while overdose deaths involving heroin, prescription opioids, and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl) get most of the attention these days, deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamine use are both increasing. In nearly every state, there is a county where residents die of drug overdoses at a higher annual rate than the national figure of 18.2 fatalities per 100,000 Americans. These are the counties with the worst drug problems in every state.

“To better understand changes in drug use outcomes and policies,” the study explains, “policymakers need to know what is happening in the markets for these substances.”