Magazine article Canadian Speeches

Drug Addiction Costs Thought Much Bigger Than Earlier Estimates

Magazine article Canadian Speeches

Drug Addiction Costs Thought Much Bigger Than Earlier Estimates

Article excerpt

At $25 billion per year -- $900 per person -- substance abuse is said to cost much more than previous estimates, which failed to adequately reflect costs related to illegal drugs, including health care, crime, lost productivity, and prison costs. Addiction is also a bigger killer than suggested by published figures, which include only deaths from over-dosing, ignoring deaths from suicide, disease and accidents related to drug use. The encouraging news is that addiction can be treated, as Canada's largest privately-run, residential drug-rehabilitation program has demonstrated over a 30-year period. Speech to the Montreal Board of Trade, November 13, 1996

The original title for this talk was "The $20-Billion Issue." I've been rethinking that. I even used my calculator. After due consideration and a bit of higher mathematics, I've decided to speak to you today about "Our $25-Billion Habit."

It is a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to address you today on the topic of substance abuse and what we can do about it. Titles of speeches aside, we shouldn't fool ourselves, this habit is ours and we're each paying for it. We're each paying a lot. For our part, it's a habit of tolerance--very Canadian, I admit--but a habit we must seriously try to break.

I occasionally run into people who think the problem of drug abuse has gone away. The unhappy news is that drug use in our high schools has doubled in the past two years. Drug-dependent mothers give birth to drug-dependent babies. Portage's Montreal center receives about 300 calls a week from men, women, their families and friends, desperate for an escape from the ravages and despair of substance abuse.

That's the bad news. The good news is that, after years of having incomplete or questionable information, credible research is finally defining substance abuse in terms that cannot be ignored. Furthermore, this research is indicating the direction we must take to meet the problem.

My involvement with this issue goes back about 30 years. I'm a Montrealer, born and raised. I was educated here. I've lived my whole life here. My business has always been based here. Like you, I am dedicated to and proud of this community.

In the late 1960s, along with many others, I became concerned about the desperate problem of drug-dependent individuals in Montreal. The horror of addiction and its effects, reaching far beyond the addicted individual alone, were apparent to us. We became committed to assisting these people in retrieving their lives and to relieving the pressures on those around them and on the community. In 1969, the Portage Program was conceived.

As our involvement intensified, a number of things became apparent to us. There was a general confusion surrounding the whole issue of substance abuse, particularly of illegal drugs. Hard data of any kind related to numbers of abusers, cost to society and therapeutic measures were simply not available. These gaps in our understanding made it virtually impossible to draw up strategies for dealing with the issue. There was no confidence in the various treatment measures. Government efforts to control the problem were disjointed and poorly orchestrated. There seemed to be no coherent plan of action. The problem grew and we had no effective response.

Regrettably, the media has not given a very useful picture of the story of drug addiction in our society. It has tended to be characterized as a foreign issue. Like homelessness and inner city poverty--not a Canadian problem.

Reporters have tended to offer shallow dramatized treatments, with a focus on tales of drug-smuggling, gangland killings and other drug-related crime. Government initiatives, such as they have been, have received scant attention. Matters of treatment and rehabilitation have received next to none.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, some progress has been made. We now have figures, facts, hard data, information. …

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