The hidden cost of addiction – Part 1 of 2
An estimated $2.5 million per month is taken out of one of the poorest counties in the nation – if not the poorest.
McCreary County is facing tough economic times.
Often, in poor areas such as McCreary, a growing number of the population turns to drugs as a possible means to escape the hard realities of day-to-day living. It is an unfortunate side-effect of poverty.
The drug abuse problem is certainly not limited to McCreary County. A growing number of cities and counties across the country are reporting higher incidents of drug overdose and deaths.
Apart from the immediate impact of drugs on health and public safety, there is another aspect of the growing epidemic that has an unseen affect on McCreary County – the economic impact.
Millions of dollars each year are drained away from the local economy as a result of illegal drug activity. Some of the money is used to purchase the drugs, which usually leaves the County and goes to the hands of outside suppliers.
Some of the money is spent by the federal, state and local government to combat the problem, prosecute the criminals and provide medical and rehab services to the victims. That tax money could be used for other purposes.
A 2011 study by the United States Department of Justice estimated drug abuse costs the economy $193 billion per year. That figure accounts for loss of productivity, criminal aspects and health impacts on the country as a result of illegal drug abuse.
Taking some data points from the study, the Voice decided to apply the principal locally and see what drugs could be costing McCreary County.
Over the past month we spoke with several members of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, as well as officials with the court system to conduct an informal and anonymous survey on their thoughts on the reach of drug abuse on the economy of McCreary County.
First, the interviewees were asked what percentage of the citizens of McCreary County they thought were using some type of drug for other than its intended purpose.
Estimates ranged from over half to as high as 68 percent of population on some from of drug on a daily basis.
That estimate included a wide range of drug use: from prescription, to smoking marijuana, and other illegal narcotics such as meth and heroin.
That number alone is shocking, but most interviewed believed the larger portion of that percentage is from occasional prescription abuse, and recreational drug use – not hard-core addictive behavior.
When asked to narrow their estimate down to those who are suffering from a serious addiction to illegal narcotics, such as methamphetamine, heroin or prescription abuse, the numbers still are staggering.
Ranging from 20 to 30 percent, the estimates still indicate that nearly a third of our population is struggling with an addiction problem – and that leads to a frightening number – what does illegal drug use cost McCreary County.
In just looking at narrowing down the percentage to those abusing illegal narcotics, and taking a conservative number, such as 20 percent, then calculating the cost using the average dose of meth – about $25 according to most law enforcement officers interviewed– an estimated $2.5 million is spent locally on the purchase of drugs each month or $30 million annually taken out of the local economy.
That is money parents could be using to buy food and clothing for their children, young adults to pursue an education or vocation, and older adults saving for their retirement.
The money spent on drugs isn’t always a cash transaction, however.
Sheriff Randy Waters said the cost of drugs isn’t always paid for in cash; sometimes exchanges are made in the form of turning over SNAP cards, merchandise or groceries.
Sheriff Waters said the exchange of goods for drugs leads to an increase in theft cases.
“People don’t want to give up their own stuff, or find out they have nothing left of value so they look at other people’s stuff and will try and get it to trade to their dealer.”
“I have seen people provided with a shopping list from their dealer,” he added. “They go to the store and spend their food stamp money, or even shoplift, to get items to give to the dealer in exchange for even one dose of their drug of choice.”
While some of that ill-gotten money sometimes trickles back in to the local economy, the majority of it travels out of town to where the drugs originated.
“The days of people operating their own meth labs around here are almost gone,” Waters said. “Most of the stuff is coming in from other places.
For a long time those other places meant Georgia, Texas and even Mexico. But as more and more attention is being devoted to those sources, others pop up to take their place once they are compromised.
“We are hearing of more and more coming out of Louisville and Frankfort recently,” he said.
But, the cost of the epidemic extends beyond the daily cost of a dose of the drug.
There is the loss in productivity and wages, the cost to the victims of drug-related crimes, and the cost of treating and prosecuting the drug users themselves.
Next week, we will look at those aspects of the economic impact of drugs on McCreary County.