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Costs of Problematic Substance Use

Problematic substance use is a significant drain on Canada’s economy through its direct impact on the healthcare and criminal justice systems, and its indirect impact on productivity, as a result of premature death and ill health.

Understanding the economic, health and social costs of problematic substance use can help to:

  • Make a case for ensuring that alcohol, tobacco and other drugs are a high priority on the public policy agenda;

  • Target specific problems and policies;

  • Identify information gaps, research needs and desirable refinements to national statistical reporting systems; and

  • Provide baseline measures to determine the effectiveness of drug policies and programs.

In 1996, CCSA and a number of federal and provincial partners released the first-ever comprehensive estimate of the social costs of substance abuse in Canada. The 1996 study was made possible by the development of reliable international cost estimation guidelines in a process coordinated by CCSA.

In 2001, CCSA led the development of the International Guidelines for Estimating the Costs of Substance Abuse. In 2003, CCSA assembled another federal–provincial partnership for a second Canadian substance abuse cost study. The Costs of Substance Abuse in Canada 2002 was released in April, 2006. The study estimated the total societal cost of substance use to be $39.8 billion or $1,267 for every Canadian.

The study also revealed that:

  • ​Legal substances (tobacco and alcohol) account for 79.3% of the total cost of substance use:

    • Tobacco accounts for 42.7% ($17 billion)

    • Alcohol accounts for 36.6% ($14.6 billion)

  • Illegal drugs account for 20.7% ($8.2 billion).