Substance use costs Canadian society almost $46 billion a year (2017) or almost $1,258 for every person in Canada. This data comes from Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms 2015–2017, a report released today by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR).
Alcohol and tobacco use continue to cost the Canadian economy and public health more than all of other substances combined. Use of them contributed to the majority (63%) of these costs and to over 66,000 preventable deaths in 2017. The opioid crisis gripping the country was evident with over 5,000 deaths attributable to opioids in 2017. The study also found that cocaine and methamphetamine use are increasing.
“Alcohol and tobacco use contributed 89% of the 277,060 hospital admissions and 76% of the 751,356 years of life lost due to substance use in 2017,” says Dr. Tim Stockwell, director of CISUR and a principal investigator for the study. “Policies around alcohol in particular have been relaxed during the COVID-19 pandemic with evidence of increased consumption. Costs and harms will likely have increased also as a result. More effective policies are urgently required in order to achieve effective harm reduction for these two widely used legal substances.”
The study analysed substance use costs by organizing them into four key sectors. Lost productivity accounted for $20 billion (44% of the total cost), while healthcare costs were $13.1 billion (28%). Criminal justice was the third highest contributor to total costs related to substance use with a cost of $9.2 billion (20%), while other direct costs contributed $3.6 billion (8%).
“We are in a critical period for Canadian policy making about substance use,” explains Dr. Matthew Young, senior research and policy analyst at CCSA. “Some Canadian jurisdictions have substantially loosened restrictions on the sale and availability of alcohol. We are trying to assess the impacts of legal non-medical cannabis. The nation is still in the midst an opioid crisis, many regions are experiencing increases in methamphetamine-related harms, and we have just been hit by a pandemic that has seismically changed our social landscape. It is critical that we continue to monitor the impact of these events on substance use in Canada. This project will provide evidence upon which to base substance use policies and against which to measure their success.”
This comprehensive study examined the costs and harms associated with the use of a broad range of substances, including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, opioids and central nervous system (CNS) depressants, cocaine and CNS stimulants, and other substances such as hallucinogens and inhalants. The study provides estimates for the years between 2015 and 2017 — the latest year for which comprehensive data was available.
The data has been used to update the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms Visualization Tool. The tool allows users to explore and compare the costs and harms of substance use in Canada. They can use data from the study to create and download customized charts, maps and tables.
Dr. Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria’s CISUR and a psychology professor at the University of Victoria, has published over 400 research papers, book chapters and monographs, as well as several books on the prevention and treatment of substance use. He performed clinical and research work in the United Kingdom before spending 16 years with Australia’s National Drug Research Institute as director. Stockwell is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and received the 2013 E. M. Jellinek Memorial Award, an international prize for outstanding research on social, cultural and policy aspects of alcohol, as well as a 2014 Health Research Leadership Award from Research Canada on behalf of CISUR.
Dr. Matthew M. Young is a senior research and policy analyst at CCSA and an adjunct research professor of psychology at Carleton University. He has been working in the field of substance use and addiction for over 20 years and leads CCSA’s research activities in drug use epidemiology. In addition to being a principal investigator for the substance use costs and harms study, Young is a senior advisor on the Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use and leads CCSA’s work on novel psychoactive substances.
CCSA was created by Parliament to provide national leadership to address substance use in Canada. A trusted counsel, CCSA provides guidance to decision makers by harnessing the power of research, curating knowledge and bringing together diverse perspectives. To learn more, visit www.ccsa.ca.
CISUR (formerly the Centre for Addictions Research BC) is a network of individuals and groups dedicated to the study of substance use and addiction in support of community-wide efforts to promote health and reduce harm. Their research is used to inform a broad range of projects, reports, publications and initiatives aimed at providing Canadians access to happier, healthier lives, whether they use substances or not. To learn more, visit www.uvic.ca/cisur.