Substance Abuse isTop Health Care Problem, Report Finds
With an economic cost of more than $414 billion a year, substance abuse is the nation's leading health problem, "causing more deaths, illness and disabilities than any other preventable health problem today," according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Hartford Courant reports that the study, led by Brandeis University researcher Constance Hogan, is "believed to be the most comprehensive single-volume examination of the problems of substance abuse." The report's findings include:
- Roughly 25% of the nation's two million annual deaths are caused by the abuse of alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs.
- While cigarette consumption in 2000 reached its lowest level since 1963, tobacco use still causes 430,700 deaths each year and creates $138 billion in annual health care costs.
- Secondhand smoke causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths among non-smokers each year. In addition, 6,000 children die each year from smoking-related illnesses, the most prevalent being low birth weight caused by smoking during pregnancy.
- While alcohol use has declined, it causes roughly 100,000 deaths a year and $166.5 billion in annual costs.
- Illicit drug use causes roughly 16,000 deaths and creates $110 billion in costs each year. While marijuana use has declined, there has been a "sharp increase" in the use of Ecstasy among teenagers.
- Regarding drug treatment, 60% of the federal drug control budget is spent on criminal justice and interdiction efforts, compared to 18% on treatment services. The report found that treatment -- which studies have shown to have at least a 40% effective rate for alcoholism and 50% for cocaine use -- was obtained by fewer than 25% of substance abusers who needed it.
Discussing this last finding, Horgan said, "Perhaps we haven't been asking ourselves the right questions about treatment. The improvement rate for people completing substance abuse treatment is comparable to that of people treated for asthma and other chronic, relapsing health conditions. Treatment is a wise public investment." Commenting on the report overall, she added,
"Our conclusion ... is that society continues to pay the price for a problem that is largely preventable and treatable" (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 3/9).
This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.