$3.00, the cost of one bag of heroin in some cities in the United States of America. Where I live in North New Jersey, a heroin addict can travel fifteen to thirty minutes to many different cities by car, bus or train to purchase a bag of heroin that might cost less than the cost of gas or the train or bus ticket to get there in the first place. One might be led to believe that because it is such a small amount of powder and so cheap, that it’s nothing to worry about; this is not the case. $3 might be the cost of one bag of heroin but what’s the true cost? What is the economic impact of this cheap and potent killer? Both directly and indirectly, heroin is bankrupting us, and this drug is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. America has had a drug problem for a very long time and we’ve been taking all the wrong steps to try to fix it. As of now, the United States federal government is still in the Prohibition-era mindset; we think we can criminalize a public health issue, and it’s costing us a lot.
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Your Tax Dollars at Work
If locking people up and throwing away the key was an effective tactic when it comes to decreasing heroin use and distribution we would have won this war already. Ever since Richard Nixon and the Controlled Substances Act, which took effect on May 1st of 1971, the drug war budget has grown exponentially. The Controlled Substances Act basically categorized drugs into one of five different schedules; schedule one drugs were considered to be the most dangerous with no accepted medical uses, and every schedule from two to five contained drugs with accepted medical uses from least to most.
In the last forty years, the United States has spent over one trillion dollars on drug law enforcement with absolutely no substantial effect on supply or demand. The fact that our government can spend over one trillion dollars of our hard earned money without facing any scrutiny from our elected officials due to the lack of efficacy is the very reason why we are getting nowhere in our fight against drugs like heroin. Due to the fact that we currently rely on reactive measures instead of proactive measures, it’s nearly impossible for our government to produce an accurate and transparent analysis of our total financial output. This is because, by its very nature, reactive spending doesn’t allow for money to be allocated in advance, making accounting for it all that much more difficult. If we can’t account for expenditures accurately then it is impossible for us to determine if what we are doing is cost-effective, which is extremely important when dealing with an issue that can potentially bankrupt us. Drug abuse and addiction-related costs are estimated to be approximately $442 billion; we need to know our money is being utilized intelligently and not wasted.
Heroin – Sick-Care Not Healthcare
Even in the private and public healthcare sector throughout communities in America, it seems that our only logical and effective approach to dealing with heroin has been reactive; Narcan. Narcan is a relatively inexpensive chemical that has been around for a long time. It immediately reverses the effects of a heroin overdose and saves lives. But unfortunately, in the very perverse system we have in America, prices for Narcan have skyrocketed to unbelievable levels. In 2014 the Food and Drug Administration or FDA approved a drug called Evzio. Evzio is an auto-injector that contains Narcan and allows untrained people to use the kit, which gives simple instructions on how to reverse an opioid overdose.
When it first came out the list price was $575. Three years later this same prescription for Evzio costs $4,500! Who has $4,500 laying around to purchase a drug to potentially save the life of their heroin-addicted friend or family member? Essentially no one does, but the company that makes this drug doesn’t charge people that much. If you’re paying cash for the drug you can get it for $360. If you have prescription drug coverage or earn less than $100,000 per year you can get the drug for free. This is all great news but there is one catch; new laws have forced first responders to start carrying Narcan kits such as Evzio. This has created a whole new market in which companies like Kaleo are cashing in. In order to raise awareness, Kaleo handed out 200,000 Evzio devices for free to groups who work with addicts, including law enforcement agencies. Kaleo and law enforcement groups refuse to release any details regarding the price they negotiated for the devices, but I’m quite sure they made a pretty penny.
Harm Reduction = Cost Reduction
Although I realize that harm reduction programs has come to mean medication-assisted treatment and needle exchanges, I’d like to include addiction treatment centers for the sake of discussion. After all, drug rehabilitation centers reduce harm, don’t they? No one, myself included, is claiming that harm reduction and drug treatment is free. I realize that all services come with a price, some better than others. In this case, we’re talking about saving quite a bit of money; we save $25,000-$30,000 per person in estimated Hepatitis C costs. An Australian study estimated that the Australian government saved $738 million in total lifetime Hepatitis C costs through syringe exchange programs between 1991 and 2000.
For every new case of HIV we avoid by utilizing syringe exchange programs we save an estimated $190,000, the cost to treat one HIV patient. Syringe exchange programs also have the ability to prevent future transmission of Hepatitis C and HIV by testing patients in their programs and alerting them to their Hepatitis C/HIV positive status. Only 7% of syringe exchange program patients need to change their behavior to avert future transmission of HIV/Hepatitis C to compensate for program costs. Essentially these programs pay for themselves in the long run with multiple net benefits.
By utilizing reactive and punitive measures, we are getting nothing out of this other than eventual bankruptcy. The point is this; by spending our money on locking addicts up and throwing away the key we are only wasting our money on ineffective measures and perpetuating the cycle of addiction and crime.
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Freedom From Heroin Addiction
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