Study: End Substance Abuse or Lose Health-Cost Battle

Article excerpt

Cigarettes, alcohol and drugs are killing more than 500,000 Americans a year and spawning a host of social maladies from street crime to homelessness to gang violence, a major new study says.

Unless Americans stop abusing these substances, efforts to hold down spiraling health costs are doomed to failure, the study's sponsors warned Thursday.

Three dozen major organizations representing the nation's doctors, lawyers, employers and educators responded with a call to make prevention and treatment of substance abuse a top national priority.

The study was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and conducted by researchers at Brandeis University.

It estimated the total economic cost of smoking, drinking and drugs at a "staggering" $238 billion in 1990 alone.

Alcohol-related costs were highest, at $99 billion, then came $72 billion from smoking and $67 billion from drug abuse.

The $238 billion dwarfs the few billion dollars that President Bill Clinton's health-care plan seeks to save from federal health care programs, said Joseph A. Califano Jr., who was secretary of health, education and welfare in President Jimmy Carter's administration.

"Without an all-out attack on the nation's No. 1 health problem - substance abuse and addiction - reforms designed to provide health care for all Americans at a reasonable cost are doomed to failure," said Califano, now president of Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Califano also warned that the social costs from substance abuse were high.

"Substance abuse and addiction . . . are destroying families, driving up health-care costs, overwhelming the education, criminal justice and social systems of this nation and contributing to an unprecedented wave of violence and homelessness," Califano said in a news conference. …