Social and Economic Costs of Illicit Drugs

UN Chronicle, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Social and Economic Costs of Illicit Drugs


Substance abuse and addition have changed he very nature of life for societies all over the world. One of the most important social and economic consequences of drug abuse is crime. This is especially so in urban areas, where crime associated with illicit drugs infects many long-accepted ways of doing even the simple things in life. It determines how people drive and park their cars, protect their homes and families, go to work, school, shopping or worship, and even how they look at one another. All of the component parts of the criminal justice system designed to protect the public by enforcing restrictions on the availability of drugs fall into the category of social costs of drug abuse. So do the costs of limiting children's freedom to play and learn, of narrowing one's own interests and groups, of circumscribing the quality of one's life. Economic costs that directly or indirectly are attributable at least in part to drugs include: higher car and home insurance due to property crime and loss; the costs of changing modes or routes of transportation; public spending to prevent abuse and enforce drug laws. Similarly, health costs associated with drug abuse have both social and economic prices: the spread of blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases through dirty needles or drug-related prostitution; overburdened health care systems; higher public and private health care costs for everyone. Illicit drugs also help determine the cost of doing business. Functional impairment caused by drug use leads to: costly mistakes and accidents; higher job turnover and absenteeism rates; theft and other crimes; increased health care and disability costs, and more. Costs are passed on to consumers or, worse, can lead to lax safety and deadly accidents. Organized criminal cartels assassinate officials, infest public life with corruption and develop ties with terrorist groups. Below are just a few facts o the social, economic, health and environmental impact of illicit drugs.

* Identifiable costs of drug abuse, including drug-related crime costs, law enforcement costs and health costs, range from 0.5 to 1.3 per cent of gross domestic product in most consumer countries.

* With rapid social and economic changes over the past several decades, there has been a dramatic increase in use among women and children in both developed and developing countries. Since many female substance abusers are of child-bearing age, negative effects on fetuses are a growing concern.

* There is an increasing involvement of women in illicit production and trafficking of drugs. They are the predominant harvesters of opium in Asia and coca leaves in South America. Nevertheless, many cultures still accept some drug and alcohol use by males, while disapproving of it by women. …

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